Righteous Gentiles and the Doctor’s Daughter
In 1941, the Nazis occupied Wilno County in Poland (now part of Belarus), establishing a ghetto in a nearby town for the area’s Jews. Among the ghetto’s inmates was a Jewish doctor named Abraham Zodziszski. Allowed to leave the ghetto to care for his Gentile patients, Dr. Zodziszski used this freedom to smuggle out Jewish children and give them to his patients, who cared for them and saved them from certain death. In December of that year, he asked a Christian couple, Vladimir and Galina Imshennik, to save his own daughter, two-year-old Yelena.
Vladimir, a Russian Orthodox priest, and Galina selflessly took in young Yelena, acting as Righteous Gentiles by harbouring her in the small home they shared with their own six-year-old son and Galina’s elderly parents. Kept out of sight, Yelena came to think of the Imshennik family as her own, calling Vladimir and Galina “mommy and daddy.”
Six months later, the Nazis liquidated the ghetto that held little Yelena’s family, murdering more than sixty of her family members, including her father, by herding the ghetto’s Jews into a barn and setting it on fire.
After this massacre, the Gestapo received an anonymous tip that the Imshenniks harboured a Jewish child. They arrest and interrogated Vladimir, Galina, and the little Jewish girl. Luckily, Yelena no longer remembered her biological family, so the Nazis could find no proof of her true identity.
After liberation of the area in 1944, it seemed as if all of Yelena’s family had been wiped out. But miraculously, her mother appeared, having survived all that time hiding in the forest. So, too, did Yelena’s older brother survive, having been sheltered by another family in the area.
In 1978, Vladimir passed away and Galina began visiting Yelena in Leningrad. In 1991, Yelena and her husband made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel, taking the elderly Galina with them. For nearly 20 years she lived in Jerusalem with the girl she had long ago rescued from the Holocaust, and died in Yelena’s arms at the age of 98.
In 1993, Yad Vashem named Vladimir and Galina Imshennik Righteous Gentiles.