In June of 1941, the Nazi war machine was on a rampage. Already having occupied much of Europe, Hitler's army now attacked the Soviet Union. One of these countries was Belarus, where a Tatar woman named Fatima Kanapatskaiya lived with her daughter Aysha.
Within a month, the Nazis turned their ambitions from occupation to extermination. In July, the Jews of Minsk began to be interned and murdered. Israel Davidson was one of Minsk's Jews. Separated from his wife Fruma and their three children, Rachel, Mira, and Vladimir, Israel was taken to the Drozdy concentration camp. Israel managed to escape the camp and, injured, he sought out the Kanapatskaiyas, friends of his family's before the war.
Fatima Kanapatskaiya was surprised to find the unexpected guest on her doorstep. And despite the danger to herself and her daughter, Fatima made Israel a secret shelter in a shed in the woods. The Nazis searched the property several times, but Israel remained hidden and safe. Israel's daughter Rachel was also able to sneak out of the Minsk ghetto and visit her father. During these visits, Fatima and Aysha gave Rachel food to bring back to her starving family.
Two years later, the Nazis began to liquidate the Minsk ghetto, which meant certain death for the Jews who remained. Israel's wife and children escaped, however, and joined him in hiding. There they remained until they were able to flee to a partison-controlled area and await liberation by the advancing Russians.
After the war, the Davidson family returned to Israel. They remained friends with Fatima and Aysha, and even gave them financial help. Rachel Davidson became a doctor, married, and made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel. Afterwards, the two families lost contact, even though each told stories of the historic friendship during the war.
Decades later, in 2003, Yad Vashem learned of the families' story and tracked down both Rachel and Aysha, whose mother had died nearly 20 years before. In 2004, Aysha and Rachel were reunited when Aysha Kanapatskaiya traveled to Israel to be named Righteous Among the Nations. She visited again in 2010, when Rachel Davidson-Shmielowitch said:
“The Kanapatsky family is a part of my family...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.”