They Called Her Grandma

The Fellowship  |  April 10, 2019

"Grandma" Oleinichenko Praskovia

Praskoviya Oleinichenko

A Christian woman living in Odessa, Ukraine, Praskoviya Oleinichenko was severely affected by the outbreak of World War II. She was raising two young children when the Nazis invaded, and doing so on her own as her husband was stationed at the front. Before the war, Praskoviya had worked at a military school where she had made friends with a Jewish woman whose niece, Manya, was studying medicine in Odessa.

When the Nazis invaded the city, Odessa’s Jews were expelled from their homes and Praskoviya’s Jewish friends were all arrested. Praskoviya visited her jailed friends, bringing them food, and promised to visit them again soon. But before she could, most of them were burned alive by the Nazis.

Manya, however, escaped that horrible fate, but was awaiting deportation to a death camp. The woman, however, was able to escape captivity and fled to Praskoviya’s home. The Christian woman took her in, discovering she was burning up with fever because of the ill treatment she had suffered. Praskoviya washed Manya up and changed her out of her filthy clothing. Then she dug a hole in the floor, covered it with a board and a sewing machine, and hid the Jewish woman there. Praskoviya taught her own young children to call Manya “Grandma” so that if they mentioned her to strangers it would seem normal.

Manya lay in that hiding place until Odessa was liberated on April 10, 1944. Around the same time, Praskoviya’s husband returned home from the war — his wife saw his return as a reward for her own act of rescue.

Manya moved to the U.S. after the war, where she married and started a family of her own. But for decades afterwards, she remained close friends with the woman who saved her life during the Holocaust. And Praskoviya Oleinichenko was at last named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 2000 for the selfless actions she took to save a Jewish life.

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