My Only Light in Vast Darkness: A Tatar Family of Holocaust Heroes

Aysha and Fatima Kanapatski, Tater mother and daughter Righteous Gentiles

Credit:Yad Vashem

When the Nazis invaded their hometown of Minsk, Belarus, Fatima and Aysha Kanapatski remained safe…for the time being.

Their Jewish Friends and Neighbors

A mother and daughter of Tatar background (seen in the photo above), the two had not yet been targeted by the invaders. But they watched in horror as the Germans began to round up and murder their Jewish friends and neighbors.

The Jews herded into the Minsk Ghetto included Israel Davidson, his wife Fruma, and their three children, Rachel, Mira, and Vladimir.

Israel’s Escape

Soon separated from his family when he was sent to a concentration camp, Israel escaped, severely injured during his getaway. Free from the Nazis, but wounded, Israel made his way to the Kanapatski home, as Fatima and Fruma had long been friends.

A Nighttime Guest

One night, Fatima and Aysha awakened to a knocking on their door. There lay an injured Israel Davidson. The Tatar family tended to their Jewish friend’s wounds and sheltered him while he recovered, all the while aware of the risk to their own lives.

As Israel hid in the Kanapatski’s shed, his daughter Rachel snuck out of the Minsk Ghetto to visit her father. Fatima and Aysha always sent food with Rachel, to feed the rest of the Davidson family still held in the ghetto.

A Family Getaway

The next year, the Nazis liquidated the Minsk Ghetto, sending the Jews there to extermination camps. Aware of the danger, Fruma and her children escaped the ghetto and joined Israel in hiding at the Kanapatski home.

Once they could, the Davidsons fled further from the Nazis and joined an anti-Nazi partisan group until the area had been liberated by the Allies.

Because of Their Help – Their Humanity

After the war, Rachel Davidson became a doctor, got married, and made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel. For a while she kept in touch with the Tatar women who saved her Jewish family, but through the decades the families drifted apart.

Then, in 2003 a Jewish newspaper writer told the story of Fatima and Aysha’s bravery. Rachel read the story and because of her, the Kanaptskis received the honor of Righteous Gentiles from Yad Vashem.

Aysha Kanapatski, Tater Righteous Gentile, and the Jewish girl, Rachel Davidson, who she helped save

Still alive, Aysha Kanapatski traveled to Jerusalem in 2004 and 2010. There she visited Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum which honored her, each time reuniting with the Jewish girl she helped save (seen here). During their second reunion, Dr. Rachel Davidson-Shmielowitch said of Aysha and her mother:

“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.”

Tags: Advocates and Allies Belarus History Holocaust Minsk Muslims Righteous Gentiles Tatars Yad Vashem

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