In the first ceremony of its kind in Ukraine, seven Ukrainian citizens were inducted Sunday into Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations for their efforts to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Their numbers decimated by time, only two of the seven attended the ceremony in their honor, which was held in Lvov. Two had passed away, one had gone to America years ago, one was too ill to come and the seventh could not be found. The deceased and ill were represented by their relatives.
Two of those honored were related, cousins Roman and Julian Bilecki. In the autumn of 1943, a group of 18 Jews who survived the Nazi extermination of the Jewish community in Polgraitza, eastern Galicia, found their way to the Belicki farm, according to Yitzhak Lev and Sima Weissman, witnesses now living in Israel.
The Bilecki family took them in. And, as Weissman wrote, they “not only hid us, but spent time with us, reading the Bible and praying for our salvation.
“Three times it was necessary to change hiding places, so that nearby villagers would suspect nothing. It’s impossible to describe what these people did for us, “wrote Weissman. “No family member would have done more than they did.”
Julian Bilecki attended the ceremony; his cousin Roman now lives somewhere in the United States.
Also attending were representatives of Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Christian Democratic Party, as well as members of the Jewish community of Lvov.
Israel’s senior diplomat in the former Soviet Union, Aryeh Levin, who is the outgoing ambassador to Russia, was prevented from attending by the cancellation of the regular Moscow-Lvov flight the day before the ceremony.
Such travel disruptions are common in the former Soviet Union nowadays. The Israeli Embassy was represented instead by its first secretary, Yossi Ben-Dor.