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Belarus Righteous Among the Nations to be Posthumously Honored at Yad Vashem

Son of Righteous and Survivor to Accept Medal at Monday Ceremony

19 March 2015

On Monday, March 23, 2015, a ceremony posthumously honoring Yelena Vorotchik (Schultz) and her mother Yefrosinia Grenko from Belarus, as Righteous Among the Nations will take place at Yad Vashem. Mr. Yevgeniy Vorotchik, son of the survivor and the Righteous Among the Nations will accept the medal and certificate of honor on his mother's and grandmother's behalf. The ceremony will be attended by Ambassador of Belarus to Israel, Mr. Vladimir Skvortsov, Director of the Department of the Righteous Among the Nations, Irena Steinfeldt, family and Holocaust survivors, as well as members of the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous and teachers currently participating in a Russian speaking educators' seminar at Yad Vashem's International School for Holocaust Studies.

A memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance will be held at 11:00 followed by the awarding of the medal and certificate in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations. The events will take place in Hebrew and Russian. The event is open to the press, in coordination with the Media Relations dept. 02 644 3410.

The Rescue Story:

Yakov Meilachs, was born in 1921 in the city of Odessa. In 1939, Yakov was drafted to serve in the Red Army and after Germany attacked the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, he was sent to the front lines. A short while after, his unit was surrounded and he was captured by the Germans and imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp in Barysaw, Belarus. While at the camp, Yakov was in constant danger of death due to his ethnic appearance which gave away his Jewish identity. Therefore, he changed his name to Vorotchik, which was the family name of his neighbors in Odessa.

Yefrosinia Grenko lived with her daughter, Yelena in Barysaw and worked at a cowshed of the German army unit that guarded the prisoner of war camp. Yelena came to help her mother milk the cows and took every opportunity she could to help the prisoners by smuggling food and tobacco. This is how Yelena met Yakov. During one brief conversation, Yelena mentioned to Yakov that he looks Jewish. Yakov revealed his secret and told her his real name, Yakov Meilachs, and that he feared that sooner or later his true identity would be discovered, and he would be killed. Yelena told her mother of her discovery and they both decided to help him. They bribed a clerk in the population registry to issue Yakov a fake identification card with the name Yakov Vorotchik in order to protect him while in the camp. Eventually Yakov managed to escape the camp and hid for several months at the home of Yelena and her mother, where they risked their lives to hide him. After the prison guards were replaced, and there was no danger of Yakov being recognized, he lived openly and worked at a factory. He continued to live with his rescuers, and was presented as Yelena's fiancé. After liberation, Yakov and Yelena were married and had three children.

After the war, Yakov began to search for his relatives in Odessa. His older brother was killed in battle, however his mother Zisla and his younger brother Lev survived. Acting upon his mother's advice, he did not change his name back to his original name, but instead kept the name Vorotchik for the rest of his life. He continued to live in Barysaw, and was recognized by the Jewish community as a Jew and never denied his Jewishness. Yelena and Yakov lived together for 47 years until Yakov's death in 1989.

For more information about the Righteous Among the Nations >>>