Olena Hryhoryshyn and Donia Rozen
Art by Natalie Nelson (tumblr)
Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and twelve year old Donia Rozen’s life turned to chaos. After fleeing the violence of the Nazis and her former neighbors, Donia found herself alone. Wandering from town to town, she was eventually given shelter by Stefan Hryhoryshyn and his sixty five year old sister Olena. However, Stefan soon feared the repercussions of this kindness and her forced Donia to leave his home. But Donia was no longer alone. Elderly Olena became her protector and she fled with the girl, working for their food while Donia hid.
When winter came, Olena returned to her brother’s home, concealing Donia in the house. One day a policeman discovered Donia and beat both the girl and her elderly protector. The two escaped into the forest where Olena built Donia a shelter of twigs and leaves. For three years, Olena kept Donia safe until they were parted by the approaching Red Army.
Donia immigrated to Israel in 1948. She never saw Olena again. Based on Donia’s testimony, Olena was named Righteous Among the Nations in 1965. Donia eventually rose to the position of Director of the Department of the Righteous at Yad Vashem.
Donia’s memior- The Forest, My Friend- is dedicated to Olena:
This book is dedicated to Olena and to all the anonymous Olenas who risked their lives to save Jewish children. To Olena, to dear unforgettable Olena – if I were a sculptor, I would create a memorial for you. I would immortalize your noble image – the image of a mother who is willing to suffer the greatest cruelty to save her children, who will sacrifice her life. You were a mother to me – the mother that I had lost during my early childhood. Unfortunately I am neither a sculptor nor a poetess, and I can only offer you this humble gift – these memoirs that were written out of a deep and heartfelt need. Accept them, dear Olena, as an expression of my great love to you, an expression of my gratitude and appreciation. Dear beloved Olena, I will never forget you.
Although Donia’s book is out of print, many libraries retain copies. You can read an excerpt here.
Yad Vashem: Olena Hryhoryshyn