A Friend of the Jewish People

Stand for Israel  |  December 5, 2022

Aleksandra Shulezhko (right), a Righteous Gentile from Ukraine
(Photo: Yad Vashem)

Before the war began, Aleksandra Shulezhko lived a good life near Kyiv, Ukraine. She worked as a nurse, her husband was a priest in the Russian Orthodox church, and they raised three children. But then the Soviets sent her husband to Siberia, simply because of his Christian faith, and labeled Aleksandra an “enemy of the people.” Unable to work, the now-single mother struggled to care for her own children. But, as World War II dawned, this Righteous Gentile would soon be caring for many more.

As the war began, Aleksandra had finally found a new job—as a kindergarten teacher. But once the Nazis overtook Ukraine, the kindergarten was closed and the building sat unused.

Soon, Aleksandra put the schoolhouse to good use, turning it into an orphanage. Seventy children soon called Aleksandra’s orphanage home, including 25 Jewish children who survived a Nazi massacre of the Jewish community of Cherkasy. Aleksandra registered each Jewish child as a Christian Ukrainian, although if they had dark features, she claimed they were Greek or Tartar, thus saving their lives.

One Jewish child saved by Aleksandra was 11-year-old Erlen Baranovskiy, who had watched the Nazis murder his grandmother. Another child rescued was 4-year-old Vladimir Pinkusovich, who Aleksandra rescued from a prison camp where he’d been sent with his parents. Both of these children, as well as many more, survived because of the brave woman’s conviction.

The Gestapo long suspected that Aleksandra was harboring Jewish children, so often searched the orphanage and interrogated her and those who helped her. Because Aleksandra spoke fluent German, she convinced the head Nazi that any suspicions were unfounded, and he even began helping the children financially, unaware that they were Jews!

As the Red Army approached Kyiv, the Nazis began to march the orphans to Germany. But Aleksandra managed to escape with the children, and survived with them in a remote village with little food or shelter until liberation.

Because of Aleksandra Shulezhko’s bravery, many Jewish lives were saved, including Erlen and Vladimir, both of whom kept in contact with Aleksandra until her death in 1994, even referring to her as “Mother.” And this woman, who had once been labeled an “enemy of the people,” was indeed a friend of the Jewish people, for which she was named a Righteous Gentile by Yad Vashem.

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