An Israeli woman has told Jewish News how she has welcomed the Ukrainian granddaughters of the heroes who saved her family during the Shoah into her home, after helping rescue them from the war-ravaged country this week.
Sharon Bass, 46, grew up hearing stories about Maria Blishchick, the righteous gentile who took in her grandmother Fanya Bass eighty years ago after she escaped the Nazis.
The Bass and Blishchick families have stayed in touch all these years. So, when Maria’s grandchildren Alona Chugai and Lasia Orshoko told Sharon how scared they were living in Ukraine following the Russian invasion she knew she had to help.
“We talked, they were very stressed and scared and they wanted to come here to be safe,” Sharon explained. “There were sirens all the time. The electricity was on and off. They heard the bombing in the distance.
“I can relate to this situation because of what has happened here in Israel. But it is still very different. So, we said we will do everything to help you.”
She contacted the Israeli Interior Ministry and managed to help secure a visa for the two women, who finally arrived in Israel on Sunday.
“We Jews we say that if you do something good, like their grandparents did, it will come back to you,” Sharon said. “I feel like it is my obligation to be there for them and close the debt we owed them.”
Orshoko is now staying with Sharon and her family in Kiryat Ono while Chugai is living with her parents in Petah Tikva.
“Eventually we got a permit for them to come. Now we are trying to get them permission to stay in Israel because I don’t know if they will have anything to go back to,” Sharon said.
The area close to the city of Rovno where the Bass family lived became part of Ukraine after it was taken by the Red Army in 1944.
It was not clear that Chugai, 47, and Lesia Orshoko, 36, would immediately be allowed into Israel as they had already spent five years working here on a visa provided to the descendents of Righteous Among the Nations.
However, after the Bass family launched a campaign to help the Ukrainians they were finally given permission to fly to Tel Aviv. Sharon and her family met them at Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday amid emotional scenes.
“We were very happy and excited when we finally saw them at the airport. We cried, we laughed, but also the tension was there,” she said. “Our thoughts were with the family that stayed behind. We had mixed emotions.
“The situation in Ukraine is so difficult right now. This family that we have been in contact with for all these years were so sad and felt that the best thing is to come here to be safe.”
Fanya Bass had been living in a forest for close to a year after fleeing her village just before all 2,500 Jews were captured by the Nazis when the Blishchicks found her in 1943.
“They let her in the house and treated her like a daughter while the whole family was in the danger of death,” Sharon said. “If the Nazis had found out that they had been giving refuge they would have killed the whole family.
“They hid her for two years. The story is very surreal because my grandmother knew all of the details of the Torah so they treated her like God sent her to them.
“From the moment they came to Israel, my grandparents were involved in many charities and tried to help people in need like they did in the Holocaust.
“What I am doing now is like giving back, just a little bit, of what my grandparents gave to others and the righteous family in Ukraine gave to them. I feel that because of them I am here.”
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