They Called Her Grandma

Stand for Israel  |  September 19, 2022

Dated image of a grandmother holding her grandchild.
(Photo: Yad Vashem)

A Christian woman living in Odessa, Ukraine, Praskoviya Oleinichenko felt the effects of the outbreak of World War II, a mother who helped a grandma during of the Holocaust. Raising two young children when the Nazis invaded, she did so on her own with her husband stationed at the front. Before the war, Praskoviya worked at a military school where she made friends with a Jewish woman whose niece, Manya, was studying medicine in Odessa.

The Odessa Massacre

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

Manya, however, escaped that horrible fate, but awaited deportation to a death camp. The woman, however, escaped captivity and fled to Praskoviya’s home.

A Hole in the Floor

The Christian woman took her in, finding Manya burning up with fever because of the ill treatment she suffered at the hands of the Nazis. 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 the Allies liberated Odessa 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 Yad Vashem at last named Praskoviya Oleinichenko Righteous Among the Nations in 2000 for the selfless actions she took to save a Jewish life.