You Mean Everything to Yuri
Although Yuri is now 90 years old, he looks 15 or 20 years younger. When we recently visited his small apartment in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon, the elderly Jewish man greeted us in his marine uniform, a thick folder of his family’s history ready for us.
“I am ninety years old. I moved to Israel from Russia with my wife and we’re happy here. We live by the sea. I come from a family of sailors, so the sea is everything for me.”
Yuri puts on a brave face, and you won’t hear any complaints from him – even when it comes to his memories of World War II, of the Holocaust. “My mother and I had stayed in the city of Rostov when it was occupied by the Nazis. They hung posters all around ordering Jews like us to gather in a school building – the school that I had graduated from. We were frightened, although the posters of course didn’t mention the fortune that awaited the Jews.”
Yuri and his mother were two of the few lucky ones, able to flee Rostov to the Caucasus and then to Tashkent. Later they learned of the massacre at Zmievskaya Balka – whose name means “Ravine of the Snakes – where 27,000 Jews from Rostov were murdered by the Nazis, the single largest mass execution in Russia during the Holocaust.
In Tashkent, Yuri’s mother volunteered as a nurse on a military train traveling across the frontlines, picking up wounded from recent battles. Still a boy, Yuri helped his mother tend to the wounded soldiers.
When the two returned to Rostov after the war, they discovered their home partially destroyed by Axis bombs. What was left had been ransacked by thieves.
Yuri, like his father, spent his career at sea. And now, he has made aliyah to his Jewish homeland, Israel, where he and his wife expected to live their final years in peace. Sadly, Ashkelon being so near the Gaza border puts them in harm’s way when terrorist rockets fly, as they did earlier this year. But Yuri knows that he has Fellowship friends who will continue to provide food, medicine, security, and love – all of the things he didn’t have as a boy who was targeted for being Jewish, just as he is now as an elderly man – and for that he is grateful.