A Farmer’s Cart Saves a Family

The Fellowship  |  January 3, 2018

Black and white image of a family of thirteen.
A Farmer's Cart Saves a Family

Ilya & Vassa Yanus

Saveli & Marfa Kaminski

Ilya and Vassa Yanus were Christian farmers who lived with their two young children in the village of Novoselki. When the Nazis overran the area in 1941, most of the Yanus’ Jewish neighbors were murdered. The Germans built a work camp for the Jews who remained. Farmers such as the Yanuses were allowed to bring their carts into the camp to barter their produce.

It was on one of his trips into the camp with his cart that Ilya Yanus encountered his old friend, Israel Perl, who told him the tragedies that had befallen him. Perl, a Jew, had worked as a cobbler before the Nazi invasion. His wife and children had been murdered, but Israel was spared because he was considered a skilled worker. In the camp, Israel had met a Jewish woman, Chaya Kogonzon, and her two young children, Roza and Anatoliy. Israel registered them as his own family, knowing that otherwise they would surely be killed.

As Israel spoke with his farmer friend, they hatched a plan. The Nazis were preparing to liquidate the camp (killing all who remained), so Ilya was the family’s only hope. He hid Chaya and her children in his cart and snuck them out of the camp.

Once the Jews had been freed from the Nazis, they were still not out of danger. Ilya and his wife dug a hole in their garden, where the Jewish family hid for six months. But rumors had spread that the Yanus family was hiding Jews, so it was only a matter of time until Chaya and her children were found and killed.

The Jewish family returned to an abandoned building near the very camp where they had been held. In the meantime, homeless Poles who had been driven out of their houses had taken up residence in the building. One of these families, the Kaminskis, felt for Chaya, as they were refugees themselves. Saveli and Marfa Kaminski took the young mother and her children in and shared the little they had with them. They even helped Chaya obtain false identification papers that said she and her children were Russian, thus saving their lives.

Chaya and her children remained in the abandoned building with their homeless heroes until the Allies liberated the area in 1944. After the war, Chaya and the children found their husband and father, Gersh, and the family was happily reunited. As an adult, Anatoliy moved to the United States, while Roza made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel.

But the Kogonzon family never forgot the two Polish families who saved them during the Holocaust, and neither did the Jewish people – in 1998, Ilya and Vassa Yanus and Saveli and Marfa Kaminski were named Righteous Among the Nations.