18 Months Hiding in a Haystack

Stand for Israel  |  August 16, 2021

Ukrainian farmers who hid Jews in haystack during Holocaust
(Photo: Yad Vashem)

A simple farming couple in Ukraine, Pavel and Lyubov Gerasimchik raised three children and made a meager living in the village of Szubkow. Years before World War II began, the Gerasimchiks befriended Isaak Khomut, a Jewish man from a nearby town who had a wife and two daughters of his own. The couple’s farm – and a haystack on the farm – would play a major role in the Jewish family’s Holocaust experience.

Out of the Ghetto

When the Nazis occupied the area in 1941, Pavel knew he could not turn his back on his Jewish friends. As the Germans began their actions against Ukraine’s Jews, forcing them into a ghetto to await deportation and execution, Pavel told the family that he would host them if it became necessary.

In September 1942, the Nazis prepared to liquidate the ghetto where the Khomut family was being held. The family attempted to flee, but their escape attempt was foiled. The next day, Pavel appeared at their door and offered to hide the family in his home.

Polina Khomut and the couple’s eight-year-old daughter Lara left the ghetto, hidden underneath a haystack on Pavel’s cart. A few days later, Isaak joined his wife and daughter. Sadly, the family’s other daughter, Hanele, had already been hidden with another family, who ended up betraying her to the Nazis. The girl was murdered.

The Gerasimchiks, however, would not betray the remaining members of the Khomut family. Despite the danger it posed to their own children, Pavel and Lyubov sheltered their Jewish friends. Intense searches for hidden Jews were carried out across the region, with those found to be hiding Jews paying with their lives.

On the Farm

While Pavel only planned on sheltering the family for a short while, his heart broke as they prepared to leave. Instead of letting them leave, he built a hideout under his threshing floor, and again hiding the family in a haystack.

For the next 18 months, the Jewish family stayed hidden on the Gerasimchik farm. Pavel’s family brought their Jewish friends food each day and cleaned the pots they used for their sanitary needs. At night they stood guard while the Khomuts snuck out for fresh air.

Near the end of the war, 15 Nazi soldiers forced themselves upon the Gerasimchik family, staying on the farm for two weeks. For that entire time, the Nazis stayed directly over the heads of the hidden family.

Once Ukraine was liberated, the Khomuts were finally safe, and immigrated to the United States. In 1990, Pavel and Lyubov Gerasimchik were named Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem. Nine years later, their three children – Klavdiya, Galina, and Nikolay – were given the honor, as well.