Vladimir and Galina Imshennik

Belarus

Galina Imshennik. Israel, 2008Galina Imshennik. Israel, 2008
Yelena Zodishski at the age of two. Lebiedziew, 1941Yelena Zodishski at the age of two. Lebiedziew, 1941
Galina Imshennik with Yelena and Yelena’s husband Yuri Dolgov. Jerusalem, 2009Galina Imshennik with Yelena and Yelena’s husband Yuri Dolgov. Jerusalem, 2009
Galina and Yelena, the rescuer and the rescued. Galina’s 98th birthday, Jerusalem, 2010 Galina and Yelena, the rescuer and the rescued. Galina’s 98th birthday, Jerusalem, 2010
The name of Imshennik (also spelled Imszenik) on the honor wall in the Garden of the Righteous, Yad VashemThe name of Imshennik (also spelled Imszenik) on the honor wall in the Garden of the Righteous, Yad Vashem

The Orthodox priest Vladimir Imshennik and his wife Galina were residing in the village of Nosilowo, Molodeczno District, Wilno County, Poland (nowadays the region is a part of Belarus). From 1940 to 1950 Vladimir served as rector at the village Church of Transfiguration. 

At the end of June 1941 the area was occupied by the Germans, and in October the same year a ghetto was established in the nearby town of Lebiedziew. Among its inmates was one of Vladimir’s acquaintances, a Jewish doctor by the name of Abraham Zodziszski.  Dr. Zodziszski was permitted to leave the ghetto to attend to his non-Jewish patients, and used this opportunity to smuggle out Jewish children and passing them to his patients for care and saving. In December 1941 he asked the Imshenniks whether they would agree to save his own two-year-old daughter, Yelena.

Although Vladimir and Galina had a six-year-old son, and shared the house with Galina’s elderly parents, and despite the great danger, they were unable to turn a blind eye to the doctor’s plight, and decided to take his child.  On 5 December 1941 Dr. Zodziszski brought his little daughter to her future rescuers. At the beginning the Imshenniks kept her completely out of sight, but eventually she learned Russian and got used to her new family. With time memory of her prewar life faded away and she began  calling her hosts “mommy” and “daddy”. On their side, the priest and his wife got very attached to the little girl.

On June 24, 1942 the Germans liquidated the ghetto in Lebiedziew; its inhabitants, more than 600 people, were rounded up and taken to a large cowshed near Markow and murdered: the Germans set fire to the cowshed. Sixty four members of Yelena’s family perished that day, among them her father, maternal grandparents, aunt and uncles with their offspring.

Sometime after the murder of the Jews, the Gestapo in Molodeczno received an anonymous note that the priest from Nosilowo was keeping a Jewish child. Vladimir and Galina were summoned for interrogation; even little Yelena was questioned. Luckily for all of them, the little girl no longer remembered her biological parents and the interrogators did not find evidence to her Jewish origin.

Yelena continued living with the Imshenniks, enjoying their loving care. After liberation in July 1944 nobody came to claim her, and the rescuers concluded that her entire family had perished. Yet, after nearly one year, Yelena’s mother, Maria, appeared; she had survived in the forests with a Soviet partisan unit. Yelena’s older brother Grigory survived hidden and saved by a Russian family from Wilno.

Parting from the child they had cared for and had come to consider their own was extremely difficult for the rescuers, and the return to her family was probably very hard for the child. Yelena, her mother and brother settled in Leningrad (today St. Petersburg), but kept in touch with the Imshenniks, exchanging letters and visiting them.

In the mid 1950's Vladimir and Galina moved to Lwow, Ukraine, with their son. After her husband’s death in 1978, Galina began visiting Yelena in Leningrad more frequently and would stay with her for longer periods. In 1991, when Yelena and her husband, Yury Dolgov, decided to immigrate to Israel, to join their daughter Natasha, they took Galina with them. for nearly 20 years she lived in Jerusalem with Yelena, the girl she had rescued. She passed away on February 28, 2011, at the age of 98.

On December 14, 1993, Vladimir & Galina Imshennik was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.

 

This online story was made possible with the support of:

Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany works to secure compensation and restitution for survivors of the Holocaust.

Since 1951, the Claims Conference - working in partnership with the State of Israel - has negotiated for and distributed payments from Germany, Austria, other governments, and certain industry; recovered unclaimed German Jewish property; and funded programs to assist the neediest Jewish victims of Nazism.