A Righteous Chemist

The Fellowship  |  September 29, 2020

Old photograph of Russian Chemist Anna Igumnova
Anna Igumnova

A Russian chemist, Anna Igumnova’s greatest work involved saving Slovakian Jews from the Nazis during World War II.

Born in Russia in 1889, Anna and her husband found themselves vacationing elsewhere in Europe when the Russian Revolution occurred in 1917, meaning they couldn’t go home. 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.

Two Chemists – One Christian, One Jewish

Another female scientist named Alice Winter also worked at the institute. Unlike Anna Igumnova, however, Alice’s Jewish faith endangered her. Because she worked on a prescription for the treatment of rheumatic disease, Alice at first received given “exception papers” from the occupying Germans. But by 1944, Alice and her 11-year-old daughter Erika faced deportation and murder at the hands of the Nazis.

Shelter in a Bathtub

Anna Igumnova could not watch the Nazis kill her friend and colleague, 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 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.