The Unusual Fate of Two Sisters
Prokofiy and Lidiya Ivanov
Prokofiy Ivanov, born 1888, lived with his wife Lidiya and their grown-up daughters Lyuba and Lyusya, in the village of Kosachevka, not far from Petrovichi, some 50 km south of Smolensk, in Russia. The couple worked as school teachers in the village school. At the outbreak of the German-Soviet war in summer 1941 their daughter, Lyuba, was enlisted by the Red Army and later fell in combat.
The area of Kosachevka was occupied by the Germans in the end of July 1941. The Ivanovs continued working as teachers, but at the same time helped the Soviet partisans who soon began to be active in the area, and supplied them with food, information and ammunition. Lyusya Ivanova, the family's other daughter, served as a courier between her parents and the partisans.
One year after occupation, in late July 1942 the partisans brought a Jewish teenager, Lev Gurevich, who had been wounded in his leg, to the Ivanov home. Lev and his older brother Haim were the only survivors of their family. Their parents and young brother had been murdered in the massacre of the Jewish community of their native town of Petrovichi on 22 July 1942. The two brothers managed to flee to the forest with a few other survivors of Petrovichi, and were accepted to the partisan group. Soon after his joining the partisans, Lev was wounded, and the Ivanovs were asked to hide him until his wound healed.
Although the Germans often came to the house of the village teachers and despite the fact that their next door neighbor was openly collaborating with the Germans, the Ivanovs took in the 16-year-old boy, treated his wound and gave him shelter. He was first kept in the attic, later in a shed and finally in a hole they had dug under the floor of the house. The family took good care of him and provided all his needs. His brother Haim stayed with the partisans in the forest where he was later killed in battle. Lev was now the only survivor of his family.
In February 1943, someone denounced Ivanov’s wife and daughter to the Germans. The two women were arrested. Lidiya was executed imemdiately and Lyusya was tortured to death. Although he had lost his wife and two daughters, Prokofy Ivanov continued to care for Lev. Both of them were now the sole survivors of their families.
During this difficult time, Yelizaveta Kondratyeva, born 1917, Ivanov’s neighbor, helped him run the household and look after the the boy in hiding. The local police commander, who was Ivanov's former student, informed him in advance of every planned search or ambush. Kondratyeva would then accompany Lev to a hiding place in the forest, where he remained until the situation had calmed down. Eventually Prokofiy married Yelizaveta Kondratyeva.
After the liberation of the Smolensk district in September 1943, Lev left the village of Kosachevka. He continued to corresponded with his rescuers for many years. He emigrated to Israel in 1991, and soon after asked Yad Vashem to recognize his rescuers. "I will remember the Ivanov family's heroism all my life and never forget them. Such people deserve to be ‘citizens of the world’ and be included in the list of the Righteous Among the Nations".
On 13 December 1995 Yad Vashem recognized Prokofiy Ivanov and Lidiya Ivanova as Righteous Among the Nations. Four years later, in 1999, Yelizaveta Kondratyeva was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations.
But the story didn’t end there.
After the Ivanovs were recognized as Righteous, more information about Lidiya Ivanova's family was uncovered. One day an Israeli by the name of Ilan Guy (Ageyev) came to the Department of the Righteous at Yad Vashem and asked for information about the Ivanovs. As it turned out, Lidiya's sister, Ekaterina, married Rodion Trofimovich Ageyev, a farmer from Kosachevka. After being wounded in World War I, and while convalescing, Ageyev began reading the Holy Scriptures. As a result he decided to convert to Judaism, took his wife and children, and emigrated to the Holy Land. The family settled in Tel Aviv in 1923. Thirty-three years later, in 1956, Rodion went on a visit to Kosachevka, where he may have heard the story of his sister-in-law's heroic rescue of Lev Gurevich. After Rodion’s death, a photo was found among his belongings. The dedication on the back of the photo read: "Look and remember the dark and terrible years which we lived through, during the Fascist occupation. Dedicated to Prokofiy Vasileyevich, from the one he saved from a terrible death. Lyova, March 1, 1945".
It was a picture that Lev had sent his to his rescuer and Ivanov must have given it to his late wife’s brother-in-law during his visit in 1956. It was the photo that prompted Ageyev to embark on a search. With the help of Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Holocaust Victims’ Names he found Pages of Testimony that Lev Gurevich had filled out. Subsequently, he learned his great aunt's wartime story.
Thus the unusual stories of the two sisters came full circle and the two narratives merged in Israel. It is the story of two sisters from a small village in Russia – one converted to Judaism and went to live in the land of Israel, where her grandchildren and great-grandchildren live; the other stayed behind, but played a major role in the rescue of a Jew who later went to Israel, had her honored, and her name is today engraved on the Walls of the Garden of the Righteous in Jerusalem.