The story of Olena Hryhoryshyn and Donia Rozen is the story of murder and destruction – the story of a 12-year-old girl whose entire family was murdered and who survived in the forest like a hunted animal. At the same time, however, this is also a tale about the most sublime manifestation of humanity and goodness.
Donia Rozen was born in 1930 in Kosow, district of Stanisławów (what is today Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine). Her mother died when Donia was two years old, her father remarried, moved to Kolomea, and sent his daughter to live with her maternal grandparents, who had an inn in the village of Szeszory in the Kosow region. Country life marked Donia's early years; she was a lonely child who spent most of her time roaming in the forest. In the coming years her love of nature was to be crucial to her ability to survive, and may even have saved her life.
When in summer 1941 the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, the quiet existence ended. After their neighbors attacked the family and plundered their home, they had to leave and moved to the uncle's home in Kosow. But soon the killings in Kosow began. During the 16-17 October 1941 massacre Donia and her grandmother managed to run away, and with the killers at their heals, knocked on their neighbors doors. One woman refused to open, but another opened the door. As they were hiding, Donia heard the voice of her grandfather, pleading with his assassins just before they executed him.
A year later, on 28 September 1942, the remaining Jews of Kosow were liquidated, and twelve-year-old Donia was left alone in the world. She somehow managed to leave Kosow and began wandering in the area, going from one village to the other, sleeping in barns and living on the food the peasants would give her. One woman took pity on her and asked Stefan Hryhoryshyn who lived with his sister in a small hut at the outskirts of the village of Mykitince to take her in. The man agreed and brought the girl home to his sister. From this moment on Olena Hryhoryshyn took the child under her auspices. She took care of her, fed her, and protected her despite the danger from the Germans and their hostile neighbors. The simple and poor woman, who was already over 60 years of age, protected the girl, was willing to share her fate, and in her unsophisticated way enveloped her with love and human warmth.
Shortly after Donia's arrival at the Hryhoryshyn hut Olena's brother changed his mind. Fearing discovery he decided to turn the girl out of his home. When Olena refused to part from her protégé, he threw both of them out.
Once again Donia found herself without a home, wandering from one place to another; but this time she was not alone. The old woman cared for her, working in return for food. When winter came and it became too cold for them to survive outside, Olena decided to return to her home with Donia and to hide her from her brother. Thus the young girl would hide when the brother was at home. Olena would go out to work and on her return would bring the girl food, and sometimes an old newspaper or a torn book for her to read.
The two lived under the constant terror of discovery by the Germans or denunciation by neighbors or local collaborators. In her memoirs Donia described how once a policeman arrived at the hut and Olena and Donia were dragged in the street and beaten. Again they fled to the forest, where Olene built a hideout for Donia and covered it with dry twigs. This was to be Donia's “home” throughout the winter of 1942-43. Every night, Hryhoryshyn visited the girl, brought her food and warmed her frozen body. Hryhoryshyn’s devotion for Rozen was by this time so great that she paid no attention to her own safety, but was solely concerned for the wellbeing of her charge. When it became too dangerous, the old woman took Donia to a more remote hiding place in the mountains.
Despite the German defeats in the battlefields, the hunt for Jews continued and the danger didn't lessen. In spring 1944, as the Red Army was approaching, a policeman discovered Rozen’s hiding place. She managed to slip away, jumped into the Prut River and swam across it. The Red Army was on the other bank and Donia was free. She never saw Olena again.
In 1948 Donia Rozen immigrated to Israel. Based on Donia's testimony, Olena Hryhoryshyn was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in 1965, and a tree was planted in her honor by Donia on the Mount of Remembrance.
Donia Rozen began working at Yad Vashem in 1958 and eventually became the Director of the Department of the Righteous. She retired in the 1970's.
In 1955 Donia Rozen filled out 17 Pages of Testimony in memory of her family who had perished, among tehm her father Abraham Rozen, her Grandparents Refael and Feiga Feiger, her uncles, aunts and cousins.
Donia Rozen dedicated her autobiographic book, "The Forest, My Friend", published by Yad Vashem, to Olena Hryhoryshyn: "This book is dedicated to Olena and to all the anonymous Olenas who risked their lives to save Jewish children. To Olena, to dear unforgettable Olena – if I were a sculptor, I would create a memorial for you. I would immortalize your noble image – the image of a mother who is willing to suffer the greatest cruelty to save her children, who will sacrifice her life. You were a mother to me – the mother that I had lost during my early childhood. Unfortunately I am neither a sculptor nor a poetess, and I can only offer you this humble gift – these memoirs that were written out of a deep and heartfelt need. Accept them, dear Olena, as an expression of my great love to you, an expression of my gratitude and appreciation. Dear beloved Olena, I will never forget you."
Referring to the need to remember, Donia Rozen wrote in her memoirs: "I want you to build us a monument – a memorial that will reach heaven, a testimonial that will be seen by the entire world – not of stone or marble, but of good deeds."
On June 15, 1965, Yad Vashem recognized Olena Hryhoryshyn as Righteous Among the Nations.