"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.

Ludviga Pukas

(Ukraine)

Eldina reading a book to Ludwiga (Nina), Gennady and Galya, September, 1946

Eldina Sternik (standing at the back) and her daughter Vera (sitting in the centre) visiting Ludwiga (Nina) Pukas (sitting on the left) and her sister Franya. Khmelnitsky, May,1969

In 1937, Ludviga (Nina) Pukas left her hometown and moved to the town of Proskurov (today Khmel’nyts’kyy), where she found a job as a domestic with Frima Sternik, a high school teacher who lived with her children, four-year-old Eldina and one-year-old Gennadiy. Over time, Pukas and Sternik became good friends and even after Pukas gave birth to a daughter, Galya, in 1940, she continued to stay with Sternik.

When the Germans conquered Proskurov on July 7, 1941, Sternik’s home was burned to the ground with all her possessions inside. When she went to apply for new identity papers, she registered Gennadiy and Eldina, as well as Galya, as Pukas’s children. As the alleged mother of three (her own daughter and Eldina and Gennadiy Sternik), Pukas was then given a new apartment, to which she moved with Sternik.

However, before long, the neighbors noticed Sternik and she felt compelled to move to the local ghetto. On the eve of the liquidation of the Jews of Proskurov, at the end of 1942, Pukas sent Sternik to her brother’s home in a nearby village but, on her way there, Sternik was caught and killed.

After the liquidation of the ghetto, police came to Pukas’s home to search for hidden Jews and they discovered another Jewish woman there who had asked Pukas for help and who Pukas was unable to turn away. The woman convinced the police that Pukas had no idea that she was Jewish but they nevertheless turned the apartment upside down in search of other Jews, unaware that two of them were under their noses.

On March 25, 1944, the Red Army liberated Proskurov and, in September of that year, Gennadiy and Eldina changed their name back to Sternik and returned to school. They made contact with their aunts but they refused to leave Pukas until they completed their studies, in the 1950s. Until her death in 1984, Gennadiy and Eldina always regarded Pukas as their mother.

On September 11, 1994, Yad Vashem recognized Ludviga Pukas as Righteous Among the Nations.