Since becoming President of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine I have been working hard to recognise the Ukrainian Righteous — Ukrainians who risked their lives to save Jews during the Second World War.
We do this by working to have streets renamed after the righteous as a way to tell their story and honor their bravery. One such righteous was Aleksandra Shulezhko, who has had a street in Cherkassy named after her. This is one more step on the path of the project of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine — “The Righteous People of My City.” I am delighted to see the project continuing to expand.
Here is her story:
Aleksandra Shulezhko managed to save dozens of Jewish children from being killed, and even let the Nazis help her doing this.
Her husband, an Orthodox priest, was repressed in 1937 and exiled to Siberia. Left alone with two minor daughters, Aleksandra could not find a job for a long time: no one wanted to deal with “the wife of the enemy of the people.” Only shortly before the war, she got a job as a kindergarten teacher.
During the German occupation, the kindergarten was disbanded, but Aleksandra organized an orphanage for homeless children of all ages in its premises. In total, about 70 children found home in the orphanage; 25 of them were Jews.
Alexsandra Shulezhko welcomed all Jewish children, without exception, registering them as Ukrainians, Greeks or Tatars — depending on the color of skin, hair and eyes.
Although all the children were registered under non-Jewish names, the police often visited the orphanage and brought Shulezhko and her staff in for interrogation. Aleksandra Shulezhko was fluent in German and managed to persuade the investigators that the suspicions of the local police chief about her orphanage were groundless. The occupation authorities not only believed her, but even provided financial assistance to the orphans.
At the end of 1943, when the Soviet army was already approaching the city, the local Gebietskommissar organized the evacuation of the orphanage westwards. He even issued documents about their German origin for them. On their way, in Vinnitsa (Vinnytsia) region, Aleksandra Shulezhko managed to deceive the German escorts and escape with all the children.
Until the liberation in April 1944, they continued to hide in the village of Sobolevka (Sobolivka). They starved, were cold, but survived. After the war, some of the children were found and taken back by their relatives; some were adopted. However, most of the Jewish children remained in the city orphanage, and after finishing school left for different cities.
Among the children in Aleksandra’s orphanage was 11-year-old Erlen Baranovskiy, who arrived after his grandmother was murdered. 4-year-old Volodya (Vladimir) Pinkusovich was picked up by Aleksandra on the territory of the local prison, where he had been sent together with his parents. Until the death of Aleksandra Shulezhko in 1994, they called her as mother.
On June 11, 1996 Yad Vashem awarded Aleksandra Shulezhko an honorary title “Righteous Among the Nations.”
By Boris Lozhkin
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