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Righteous Among the Nations who Rescued Rabbi Israel Meir Lau to be Honored at Yad Vashem Tuesday

03 August 2009

Feodor Mikhailichenko, Righteous Among the Nations from Russia, will be posthumously honored at Yad Vashem on Tuesday, August 4, 2009 for rescuing Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau during the Holocaust. A memorial ceremony will take place in the Hall of Remembrance at 11:00, followed by a ceremony in the Synagogue at Yad Vashem. The event will take place in Hebrew, with simultaneous translation into Russian and English, in the presence of the survivor, Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Jaffe and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, daughters of the Righteous, Yulia Selutina and Yelena Belayaeva, who will accept the medal and certificate of honor on their late father’s behalf. Also participating in the ceremony is Minister of Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein, Russian Ambassador to Israel Piotr Vladimirovich Stegniy, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev, Supreme Court Justice Yaacov Turkel, Chairman of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, as well as a group of European educators currently participating in a seminar at Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies.

The event is open to the press in coordination with the Media Relations Department: 02 644 3410.

The Rescue Story

Feodor Mikhailichenko was born in the city of Rostov-on-Don, Russia in 1927. When the Germans captured Rostov in 1942, the school where Feodor studied was evacuated and the students removed to the rear. Feodor was ill at the time and remained behind with his parents. Neighbors informed on the family and Feodor was taken as a forced laborer to Germany. In 1942, the 16-year-old boy was arrested by the Gestapo in Dortmund, accused of theft, and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Israel Meir Lau was born in 1937 in Piotrków, Poland. In October 1942, his father Moshe Chaim Lau, Rabbi of the city, and his 13-year-old brother Shmuel, and the majority of the Jews of their town, were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp, where they were murdered. Five-year-old Israel Meir (“Lolek”), his mother Chaya, and his brother Naftali, managed to escape the deportation. In November 1944, fearing Lolek would share her own fate during a selection, Rabbi Lau’s mother asked Naftali to protect and care for his younger brother. Lau’s mother was sent to her death in the Ravensbrück camp, but Naftali, together with the young Lolek, was deported to the Czenstochowa forced labor camp and in 1945 to Buchenwald.

Upon arriving at Buchenwald, the brothers were separated and Lolek was sent to Block 8, a special barrack for children. Feodor, who was also incarcerated in Block 8, became Lolek’s protector: stealing potatoes to cook for him, knitting earmuffs to protect him from the biting cold, and serving as a surrogate father to the young boy. When American soldiers arrived to liberate the camp on April 11, 1945, Feodor kept Lolek by his side, protecting him from gunfire.

When Buchenwald was liberated, eight-year-old Lau was one of the youngest surviving prisoners. Following liberation, Lau, together with his brother Naftali, emigrated to Eretz Israel on a ship of orphaned refugee children. Despite earlier attempts to find Feodor Mikhailichenko, he was only identified 63 years after the war, when in the course of doing research on Buchenwald, Kenneth Waltzer, an American researcher from Michigan State University, managed to identify Rabbi Lau's rescuer as Feodor Mikhailchenko.