"Women of Valor"

Stories of Women Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust

A little over half of the Righteous Among the Nations recognized by Yad Vashem are women. While many of them acted in cooperation with other family members, some of these courageous women were the initiators of the rescue and acted independently to save Jews. Here are some of their stories.

Antonina Gordey

(Belarus)

Antonina Gordey, 1948

Antonina Gordey and her son Vladimir, 1957

Antonina Gordey with her son Vladimir and his wife, 1965

Antonina Gordey née  Zhur worked as a nanny for the Ledvich family, a Jewish family who lived in Minsk. She took care of six-year-old Rafail and three-year-old Raya. Mordukh Ledvich, the head of the family, was a civil engineer, his wife Fanya – a kindergarten manager. On the day that the war broke out, Mordukh was conscripted to the Red Army, while Fanya was ordered to evacuate the kindergarten to the east. Fanya’s children were supposed to be evacuated with her, but the bombing started early in the morning of June 26, 1941. Fanya left hastily with the kindergarten pupils and personnel but her own children did not get to the meeting point in time and remained in Minsk, which was occupied by the Germans two days later.

The apartment building where the Ledvich family used to live was razed to the ground, and Antonina with her wards went to stay with her friends. After a few days she left Rafail and Raya in the orphanage, where, she assumed, the children would at least be fed. Soon the Ledvich siblings, together with other Jewish children, were transferred to the ghetto orphanage. Antonina continued visiting them in the ghetto, brought them food and promised to take them as soon as she found work and lodging.

Several months passed. One day Antonina came to see the children in the ghetto and did not find Rafail. Pupils at the orphanage told her that Germans had been drawing blood samples from him, which caused his death. Fearful to lose little Raya as well Antonina took her out of the ghetto on the same day.

During the winter of 1941–1942, Raya had no winter clothes and suffered from malnutrition. Antonina brought the girl to her sister, where Raya stayed until her nanny found a place to live and a source of income. Their situation improved somewhat after Antonina married. The rescuer did not tell her husband the truth about the girl and he assumed that Raya was Antonina’s illegitimate child. Antonina did not deny that. But since she had no birth certificate proving their kinship she hid Raya when strangers or Germans were around. In 1943 Antonina gave birth to her own son, Vladimir, but she still loved and cared for the girl, protecting her from possible dangers.

After the liberation Mordukh and Fanya Ledvich returned to Minsk and found their Raya safe and sound. Antonina told them everything she knew about thier son Rafail's death. The rescuer and the survivor lived in the same city for many years and maintained contact until Antonina’s death in 1978.

On May 9, 2007, Yad Vashem recognized Antonina Gordey as a Righteous Among the Nations.