Fania was a teenager in the Ukrainian town of Rafalowka when the Germans invaded, forcing Jews into ghettos and slave-labor camps. Most of her family was killed, including her parents and five siblings, whose bodies were dumped into unmarked, open pits in the forest of Rafalowka. Her youngest sister was just 6. But Fania fled and survived, and would return, years later, with other survivors and her daughter Chagit in tow, to create a memorial at the site of the slaughter.
Fania wasn’t spared by accident or coincidence. Her life was very actively saved by a courageous non-Jewish Ukrainian woman named Maria Blyshchik. Maria and her extended family hid Fania during the last two years of the war, until shortly before Rafalowka was liberated by the Red Army in February 1944.
Fania relocated to Israel and started a family, telling the story over and over to her children and grandchildren, letting them know about the good people who held on to their humanity and quietly rebelled against the horrors of the war. Fania and Maria’s family, who stayed in Ukraine, lost touch in the immediate aftermath of liberation and for years following. But then technology made communicating easier, and the families reconnected in the 1990s and have been in regular communication since.
As soon as the situation turned bleak in Ukraine, Sharon began brainstorming how to get them to safety in Israel. She explained that “neither I nor they could imagine the situation would develop like it did — into war — but when it did and it was time for action, we decided the best thing to do would be to bring them here to a place where they can be safe.”
Once the bureaucracy was out of the way, there were still the logistics on the ground. Lesia and Alona had to make their way out of Ukraine. They went first by bus from their homes in the small towns of Volodymyrets and Borova to the Polish border, and then on to Warsaw, where they boarded a plane for Munich. From there, Sharon and a friend of Alona’s split the cost of the cousins’ flights to Tel Aviv. They landed in Israel on March 6.
I spoke with Alona five days after she arrived in Israel, and she told me, “I’m happy to be here and in the warmth and security of the Bass family, who are like a second family to me, but I am also thinking of all the family I left behind in Ukraine who are still in danger.” Alona’s mother, father, brother and nephews are still in Ukraine.
This content was originally published here.