A Prescription for Rescue

The Fellowship  |  April 19, 2017

Old photograph of Russian Chemist Anna Igumnova
Anna Igumnova

Anna Igumnova

Born in Russia in 1889, Anna Igumnova and her husband were elsewhere in Europe when the Russian Revolution occurred in 1917. In Berlin, Anna received her Ph.D. in chemistry. Widowed in the late 1920s, Anna moved her children to Slovakia, where she worked at a research institute.

Also at the institute was another female scientist, Alice Winter. Unlike Anna, however, Alice was Jewish, and since joining the faculty in 1942, was endangered because of her faith. Because she was working on a prescription for the treatment of rheumatic disease, Alice was at first given “exception papers.” But by 1944, Alice and her 11-year-old daughter Erika faced deportation and murder at the hands of the Nazis.

Anna was not about to watch her friend and colleague be killed by the Germans, so she acted. Anna found a room in an abandoned hotel where she could hide Alice and Erika. With a bathtub sunken into the floor, the hotel room proved a suitable hiding place. During the day, Alice and Erika sat in the tub, hidden from anyone outside who might peak into the broken windows. At night, Anna would visit them, bringing food, books, and news from the outside world. Anna would then visit other Jews who needed her assistance.

After three months spent hiding in the hotel bathtub, Alice and Erika were moved to the mountains. Alice joined the partisans fighting Hitler’s regime, while Erika was hidden with a local peasant family. Anna would visit the village, bringing money to help care for the young girl.

After the war, Alice and her family immigrated to the United States, but stayed in touch with Anna until the widowed chemist’s death in the late 1980s. In 2010, Yad Vashem recognized Anna Igumnova as Righteous Among the Nations.