From the Killing Site to a Welcoming Family
Vartan Mkrtchyan and his mother Arkal
When the Germans occupied Warsaw in 1939, 15-year-old Josef Taraszinsky escaped from the city with his family. They eventually reached Kharkov in Ukraine and settled there in April 1941. Two months later the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, and the Taraszinskys were again under Nazi rule. On December 14, 1941, nearly two months after Kharkov was occupied by the Germans, the local Jews were ordered to leave their homes and move to the grounds of an agricultural equipment factory on the outskirts of the city. Three weeks later they were taken from there to be shot. While the Jews were lead to their death, a German officer instructed Taraszinsky to guard a suitcase filled with valuables. After several hours the officer returned, took the suitcase and ordered Taraszinsky to follow the direction in which all the Jews had been taken. The young boy did not obey, but jumped into a nearby truck that was being loaded with the clothing of the murdered Jews. When the truck reached Kharkov, he jumped out under the cover of darkness and found a place to rest in the attic of his former house. The next morning he went to the marketplace, where he met and befriended an Armenian boy, Vartan Mkrtchyan. Taraszinsky told him what had happened to him, and Vartan invited him to his home.
Vartan’s large Armenian family received Taraszinsky warmly, but only Vartan’s mother, Arkal, and cousin Knarik Shakhbazian were told about his real identity. Some time later, Vartan arranged false papers for his ward. Taraszinsky remained under the roof of the Armenian family until February 1943, when the city was first liberated by the Red Army. The two youngsters, Taraszinsky and Vartan joined the Red Army, and Vartan fell in combat. When Taraszinsky completed his military service in 1948, he returned to Kharkov, and married Knarik Shakhbazian.
On November 21, 1999, Yad Vashem recognized Vartan Mkrtchyan, his mother, Arkal and Knarik Shakhbazian as Righteous Among the Nations.