Bruria Lev, daughter of Holocaust survivor Yochanan Warmflash, with Galina Grinchik, surrounded by the extended Warmflash family
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30 September 2021
In the first such ceremony to take place on the Mount of Remembrance since October 2018, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, today posthumously honored Yelena Grinchik from Ukraine as Righteous Among the Nations.
Honored attendees included Ukrainian Ambassador to Israel H.E. Mr. Yevgen Korniychuk; Chairman of Yad Vashem Dani Dayan; and Galina Grinchik, granddaughter of Yelena Grinchik.
Galina stated during the ceremony:
"It is a great honor for me to receive this award in the name of my grandmother Yelena. I never dreamed that I would come to Israel and take part in such an event. My grandmother was a kind person who did not see people according to categories of religion, nationality or skin color, she was good to everyone, despite her hard life."
Today's event began with a traditional memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance followed by the presentation of the certificate and medal to Yelena's granddaughter, Galina, by Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. At the conclusion, they unveiled Yelena Grinchik's name, which is etched into the Wall of Honor so that her selfless acts of kindness to the Warmflash family during the Holocaust will always be remembered.
Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan remarked:
"As I see the entire Warmflash family tree here today with all the various branches, I am reminded by the phrase from the Talmud, 'Whoever saves one life is as though he has saved an entire world'. This idiom, which is emblazoned on the Medal and Certificate of Honor of the Righteous Among the Nations, has new meaning for me today. While the stories of Holocaust survivors rescued by Righteous Among the Nations are few in number among the countless atrocities of the Holocaust, they nevertheless shine a ray of light on this darkest chapter in human history and are a testament to the ability of human beings to stand up in the face of evil and make the right choice."
Dozens of family members of the Warmflash family attended the moving ceremony at Yad Vashem.
Bruria Lev, daughter of the late Holocaust survivor Yokhanan Warmflash, one of the Jews rescued by Grinchik, spoke of her family's experience during the Holocaust:
"My grandmother and her three sons were deported from their comfortable home in Bukovina and thrown like abandoned dogs into Transnistria. From the horrors of the camp, the family searched and searched for salvation. Uncle Shmuel knocked on the doors of some of the local Ukrainians in the hopes of finding shelter for the family. Despite finding a place to stay, the host family quickly decided it was too risky and threw them again out into the cold, snowy winter. A last ray of light shone on them in their darkest moment of despair, when they found refuge in the home of Yelena Grinchik, one of the poorest peasants in the town. Despite the dangers and hardships. Yelena took them in. When their hopes and health were restored and their smiles returned to their faces, my grandmother said, 'Shmil (Shmuel) – these people you brought us to are not human beings, they are angels'."
To date, Yad Vashem has recognized almost 28,000 individuals from over 50 countries as Righteous Among the Nations.
The Rescue Story
Born and raised in the village of Tsibulovka in southern Ukraine, Yelena Grinchik was 28 years old when Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Like most other residents of the village, Grinchik worked in the local kolkhoz and was paid in agricultural products, which she used to support her two daughters, Yevgeniya and Tatyana, and her visually impaired mother, Olyta.
At the end of the fall of 1941, the Germans and their Romanian allies established a concentration camp in Tsibulovka for Jews deported from Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. The native Jews of the town had already been murdered. Over 2,400 men, women and children were incarcerated in the camp. In the winter of 1941/1942, a typhus epidemic broke out in the camp. There were no doctors or medications in the camp, and prisoners froze in the harsh winds. Ultimately, over 2,000 prisoners died in the epidemic.
Reiza Warmflash and her son Yakov were among those who caught typhus. They and their family had been marched to the camp from their hometown of Zastavna, Bukovina. After their father perished from hypothermia, Yokhanan and Shmuel, Reiza's two other sons, managed to sneak their mother and brother out of the camp. Reiza and Yakov were hidden in a local farmer’s barn to protect them from the elements. The barn owner silently agreed, but eventually changed his mind and ordered them to leave. His neighbor, Yelena Grinchik, came to the Warmflashes' aid, and allowed them into her home.
Despite barely making ends meet to provide for her own family, Yelena fed Reiza, Yakov and Shmuel – who had meanwhile joined his mother and brother – with food mostly consisting of grains and vegetables that she and Shmuel begged off of other villagers. The warm food and shelter were crucial to Yakov and Reiza’s recovery. After he lost his means to earn money, Yokhanan also joined his family members in Grinchik's home. His feet were badly frostbitten, but Grinchik managed to cure him through her knowledge of folk medicine combined with the warmth of her Russian stove. She performed all of these life-saving actions knowing that she risked severe and possibly lethal punishment if she were to have been caught.
In the spring 1942, the Jewish family returned to the camp and remained there, performing harsh labor, for two years until their liberation by Soviet forces in March 1944. They then returned to their hometown. Yokhanan and Yakov were conscripted into the Red Army, where Yakov was killed at the age of 21. In 1947, Reiza, Shmuel and Yokhanan immigrated to the Land of Israel. Almost 70 years later, descendants of the Warmflash survivors travelled to the village of Tsibulovka and met with Yelena's family, including her granddaughter, Galina.