She Called Them Mommy and Daddy

The Fellowship  |  December 14, 2016

Yelena Zodziszski, Jewish girl saved by Righteous Gentiles
She Called Them Mommy and Daddy

Vladimir and Galina Imshennik

Vladimir (1904-1978)
Antonia (1912-2011)

In 1941, the Nazis occupied Wilno County in Poland (now a part of modern-day Belarus), establishing a ghetto in a nearby town for the area’s Jews. Among the ghetto’s inmates was a Jewish doctor named Abraham Zodziszski. Dr. Zodziszski was allowed to leave the ghetto in order to care for his Gentile patients, and used this freedom to smuggle out Jewish children and give them to his patients, who cared for them and saved them from certain death. In December of that year, he asked a Christian couple, Vladimir and Galina Imshennik, to save his own daughter, two-year-old Yelena.

Vladimir, a Russian Orthodox priest, and Galina selflessly took in young Yelena, harboring her in the small home they shared with their own six-year-old son and Galina’s elderly parents. Yelena was kept out of sight, and came to think of the Imshennik family as her own, calling Vladimir and Galina “mommy and daddy.”

Six months later, the Nazis liquidated the ghetto that held little Yelena’s family. More than sixty of her family members were murdered, including her father, when the Germans herded the ghetto’s Jews into a barn and set it on fire.

After this massacre, the Gestapo received an anonymous tip that the Imshenniks were harboring a Jewish child. Vladimir, Galina, and the little Jewish girl were arrested and interrogated. Luckily, Yelena no longer remembered her biological family, so the Nazis could find no proof of her true identity.

After the area was liberated in 1944, it seemed as if all of Yelena’s family had been wiped out. But miraculously, her mother appeared, having survived all that time hiding in the forest. So, too, did Yelena’s older brother survive, having been sheltered by another family in the area.

Parting from the only family she knew was very hard on young Yelena, but after moving to Leningrad with her mother and brother, she kept in touch with Vladimir and Galina.

In 1978, Vladimir passed away and Galina began visiting Yelena in Leningrad. In 1991, Yelena and her husband made aliyah (immigrated) to Israel, taking the elderly Galina with them. For nearly 20 years she lived in Jerusalem with the girl she had long ago rescued from the Holocaust, and died in Yelena’s arms at the age of 98.

In 1993, Vladimir and Galina Imshennik were recognized for their heroism when Yad Vashem named them Righteous Among the Nations.