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A Lifesaving March to Freedom

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Nikolai Kiselev

Life: 1913-1974

Why you should know him: Nikolai Kiselev was born to a peasant family in the rural Russian Empire, but went off to the city to study foreign trade. Although he wasn't drafted into the Russian army when the Nazis invaded, Nikolai volunteered to fight, nonetheless. As a soldier who saw much action, Nikolai was wounded and taken prisoner by the Nazis.

While being transported to a Nazi prison camp, Nikolai escaped the train. Fleeing to the forests of Belarus, Nikolai joined a group of anti-Nazi partisans, where his job was to organize groups of Jews and escaped Russian prisoners to fight the dreaded Germans.

In the nearby ghetto of Dolginovo, the Nazis collected and massacred 5,000 Jews - men, women, and children. Of those thousands, less than 300 survived. Single-handedly, Nikolai led the survivors nearly 1,000 miles to safety behind Soviet lines.

During this long march to safety, one young boy became ill and could not continue. The boy's mother would not leave her beloved son and asked that they both be shot, lest they fall victim to the Nazis. Nikolai refused and carried the boy in his arms until he was well. In another instance, a small three-year-old girl was constantly crying from hunger. Some thought the girl's life should be taken in order to spare the rest, as the Nazis would surely hear the girl's cries. Instead, Nikolai carried her and fed her his own bread.

At last, the band of survivors made it to safety. Because of Nikolai Kiselev's leadership and selflessness, 218 Jewish lives were saved. Nikolai, himself, was forced to sit out the rest of the war, as the march had taken a toll on his health. Once he recovered, though, he lived to the age of 60, still keeping in touch with some of the Jews he had saved. In 2005, Nikolai Kiselev was named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.

Tags: Inspiration , Advocacy , IFCJ

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