The Girl with Black Hair

The Fellowship  |  September 26, 2018

Black and white image of the Movchan Family.
The Girl with Black Hair

It was the summer of 1942. World War II was underway, as was the Holocaust, affecting Jews all over Europe. In the small Ukrainian village of Osolynka, a 12-year-old girl with black hair appeared, telling the villagers that her name was Sofiyka and that she had come from a nearby orphanage.

A Christian family invited Sofiyka into their home, despite the rumors around town that the girl was actually a Jew. Pavlo and Tatyana Movchan — parents of two young children, themselves — paid no mind to the rumors, and kept sheltering the girl. Soon they learned young Sofiyka’s true story.

Sofiyka’s real name was Ruzya Derzhanskaya, and she was in fact Jewish. She came from the town of Yanovo, where her family had once lived. But her father had been forced into the army, while her mother and brother had been murdered that spring in the death pits with the rest of the area’s Jews. “Sofiyka” had managed to escape and had wandered around alone for months.

The Movchans resolved to protect the girl. Pavlo spread a rumor of his own — that “Sofiyka” was his niece. He also managed to get false identification papers for her. The girl never left the house, and always wore a scarf to cover her curly black hair (as seen in the above photograph, with “Sofiyka” standing on the right). The girl stayed with the family for two more years until the area was liberated from the Nazis. Afterwards, she returned to Yanovo, where she was reuinted with her father. And after the war, she kept in touch with the Movchan family — who were named Righteous Among the Nations in 1994 — even after making aliyah (immigrating to Israel) in 1991.