Yad Vashem honors Lau’s long unknown rescuer

BERLIN (JTA) — The rescuer of a future chief rabbi of Israel at the Buchenwald concentration camp  was honored posthumously by Yad Vashem.

Fyodor Michajlitschenko, who was an 18-year old fellow prisoner when he who took Israel Meir Lau, then 7, under his wing, was named Tuesday as Righteous Among the Nations. Michajlitschenko’s two daughters came from Russia to accept the honor.

Michajlitschenko stole potatoes for Lau and protected him from gunfire during the final days before liberation in 1944-45.

Lau, 72, chair of the Yad Vashem Council and the chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel from 1999 to 2003, had not known the full name of his rescuer and could not find him. But  a scholar from Michigan State University, Kenneth Waltzer, recently uncovered information at the newly opened archives of the International Tracing Service in Bad Arolsen, Germany, identifying Michajlitschenko as Lau’s protector at the camp.

With help from Yad Vashem, contact was made with Michajlitschenko’s family in Russia. Although Michajlitschenko had died in 2006, his family had a videotape of an interview he had made in the 1990s in which he talked about Lau. A copy of the tape was sent to the rabbi.

Lau, who lost almost his entire family in the Holocaust, told reporters that he had been looking for Michajlitschenko for 60 years to thank him.

The Righteous Among the Nations designation honors non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

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