The Unexpected Guest

Fatima Kanapatskaiya and her daughter Aysha (Anna) Trofimova-Kanapatskaiya

Belarus

Fatima Kanapatskaiya  and her daughterFatima Kanapatskaiya and her daughter
Fatima Kanapatskaiya  and her daughter, 1950Fatima Kanapatskaiya and her daughter, 1950
Aisha Trofimova (left) with survivor (right) at the ceremony in Yad VashemAisha Trofimova (left) with survivor (right) at the ceremony in Yad Vashem
The names of Kanapatskaiya and her daughter on the wall in the Garden of the Righteous, Yad VashemThe names of Kanapatskaiya and her daughter on the wall in the Garden of the Righteous, Yad Vashem

One day an unexpected “guest” arrived at the home of Fatima Kanapatski. Fatima Kanapatskaiya, and her daughter Aysha were Muslims of Tatar origin and lived in Minsk. The guest was Israel Davidson, the husband of Fatima’s friend Fruma.

Minsk was occupied soon after the Geraman Attack on the Soviet Union in the end of June 1941. The murder of the Jews began on July 8, and on July 20, the Jews of Minsk and environs were interned in a ghetto, among them Israel and Fruma Davidson with their children, Rachel, Mira and Vladimir. From there Israel Davidson was taken to the Drozdy camp in the vicinity of Minsk. He managed to escape and, although injured, made his way to the home of the Kanapatskis, his friends from before the war.  They took him in, sheltered him for several weeks, and treated his wounds until he recovered. Not wanting to leave his family behind, Israel returned to the ghetto. But after the another murder operation in the ghetto in March 1942, he decided to return to the Kanapatski family. Fatima provided him with a more permanent hiding place in a shed in the woods. Both Fatima and her daughter, Anna (Aysha), took care of Israel. The area was searched several times but the shelter was not discovered. During this period, Israel’s daughter Rachel was able to sneak out of the ghetto a number of times to visit her father in the Kanapatski home. Each time they gave her food for her family before she returned to the  ghetto.

In June 1943, when the Minsk ghetto was being liquidated, Fruma Davidson and her three children escaped and joined Israel at the Kanapatskis. They hid there with Israel for one day and then they all fled to a partisan-controlled area. There, in the forest, they joined the partisan unit under the command of Shalom Zorin. The Red Army liberated the area in the summer of 1944. 

After the war, the survivors returned to Minsk. Rachel studied medicine and married another medical student, a Holocaust survivor from Iwje. They maintained friendly relations with Fatima and Aysha, and helped them financially. In 1958, Rachel Davidson-Shmielowitch and her family immigrated to Israel. Correspondence between the two families continued until 1967, and then the contact was discontinued. Fatima passed away in 1985, and shortly afterwards Aysha married and moved to another neighborhood. In Minsk and Israel, rescuers and survivors told the story to their children, but the two families had lost touch.

In 2003, a clipping from a Jewish newspaper published in Minsk was sent to Yad Vashem. The author had heard Aysha mention the Jewish family she and her mother had saved, and decided to write and article. The Department of the Righteous managed to locate Rachel with the help of Batya Unterschatz (former Director of the Jewish Agency’s Search Bureau for Missing Relatives). A file was opened and the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous decided to recognize mother and daughter as Righteous Among the Nations. In 2004 Aysha traveled to Israel and was officially presented with the medal and certificate of the Righteous Among the Nations. A tearful meeting took place between her and Rachel Davidson-Shmielowitch. 

Aysha visited Jerusalem for a second time in 2010 when she arrived with a delegation of Righteous from Belarus that was hosted by the State of Israel. The delegation visited Yad Vashem and Aysha and Rachel, accompanied by their families, were reunited again. They toured the Holocaust History Museum and then gathered at the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations to view Trofimova’s name, which is engraved on the Wall of Honor. “The Kanapatsky family is a part of my family,” said Shmielowitch. “It was only because of their help - their humanity - that I stayed alive. They acted with courage even though they knew death was awaiting them. Aysha is a true ‘Righteous Among the Nations’. Her family was my only light in vast darkness.”

 

This online story was made possible with the support of:

Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany works to secure compensation and restitution for survivors of the Holocaust.

Since 1951, the Claims Conference - working in partnership with the State of Israel - has negotiated for and distributed payments from Germany, Austria, other governments, and certain industry; recovered unclaimed German Jewish property; and funded programs to assist the neediest Jewish victims of Nazism.