An emotional meeting took place yesterday at Yad Vashem between Holocaust survivor, Rachel Shmielowitch (née Davidson) and her rescuer, Aysha Trofimova (née Kapatansky) from Belarus. Both women were accompanied by their families while 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 Davidson family, Israel, Proma, and their children, Rachel, Vladimir and Mira lived in Minsk. In August of 1942, the Davidsons were forced with the rest of Minsk’s Jews to move to the Ghetto. The Davidson family had always been friendly with the Kanapatskys, a Muslim family from Minsk and turned to them for help during their time in the ghetto. Unlike many Belarusians who were indifferent to the atrocities committed against the Jews, the Kanapatskys immediately helped the Davidsons.
The Kanapatskys first hid Shmielowitch’s father, Israel Davidson, after he was ordered to the work camp, Camp Drodzy. Israel spent most of his time in a deep pit he had dug under a pile of firewood. He then returned to the Kanapatsky house for a second time after a mass killing occurred in March 1942, in which 5,000 people were killed at once in the heart of the ghetto.
“They made people stand in a line and would shoot each person: mothers, fathers, children,” recalls Shmielowitch. “The dead fell into a pit that was in the middle of the ghetto. I can still hear the screaming and crying.”
In June 1943, the ghetto began to be liquidated and Rachel’s mother and her two siblings escaped to the Kanapatsky’s house.
“The Kanapatskys hid my family even though they were risking their lives. If they would have been caught they would’ve been killed with us,” said Shmielowitch.
The Kanapatskys provided the Davidsons with clothes, food and shelter. After a few weeks they were taken to the forest in hopes of joining the Jewish Partisans. For a year Shmielowitch’s father fought with the Partisans while the rest of the family stayed in the civilian camp. After the war the Davidsons returned to Minsk and lived next door to the Kanapatskys who provided them with endless amounts of help. In 1958, the Davidsons moved to Poland where they then made aliyah. Shmielowitch promises to never forget what the Kanapatskys did for her and her family.
“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.”
Trofimova is one of 600 people from Belarus who are currently recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.