Grassroots groups help save Holocaust survivors in Ukraine
Since the bombing began to intensify in Kyiv and Kharkiv about a week ago, Julia Entin has been working feverishly – thousands of miles away in Los Angeles – to evacuate Holocaust survivors in Ukraine who are find themselves trapped in another conflict.
For the past six years, the 39-year-old paralegal from Beth Tzedek Legal Services has helped connect Holocaust survivors with local services. Today, Entin coordinates rescue efforts in Ukraine because she “feels a personal connection” to their painful situation.
“They are already survivors of severe trauma,” said Entin, a refugee from the former Soviet Union and granddaughter of a Ukrainian Holocaust survivor.
“And now, with this war, they’re going through that trauma again.” bus operators to transport vulnerable community members out of the war zone.
In times of crisis where Jews from Ukraine are trying to flee to Europe and Israel, groups such as the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and partner organizations such as Entin’s have helped families in the United States who want their relatives are extracted.
Entin said many contacted her directly because she worked with Holocaust survivors.
Entin called survivors in Ukraine, usually with a family member or friend on the line.
It can be difficult to quickly establish relationships with elderly people – many of whom have serious health problems – crowded into their homes during wartime. Entin begins by apologizing for speaking in Russian instead of Ukrainian.
“I identify myself and tell them who I am – the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor,” she said.
“I tell them how my grandfather was not evacuated and lived (World War II) under Nazi occupation. It’s a deep bond that we have. And it helps build trust,” said she added.
Entin always struggled to get survivors to leave with trusted taxi or bus drivers, who she said had been vetted and recruited on recommendation.
This week, a man in his late 80s refused to go because he was afraid he would die on the way.
“Convincing him was a real challenge because you can’t guarantee – nobody can guarantee – that it won’t happen,” she said.
But there were a few successes that kept Entin hopeful.
On Sunday, 81-year-old Holocaust survivor Valery Semenovich Zharkovsky, his daughter Inna Valerievna Zharkovskaya and her eight-year-old daughter were rescued from their home in Kharkiv.
Entin said Wednesday the family had arrived in Germany, where Zharkovsky’s brother lives.
She said Jewish refugees generally choose to go to Israel – its Law of Return allows Jews to make ‘aliyah’ and gain citizenship – or other parts of Europe where they could receive benefits, such as health care, immediately.
“No matter where they choose to go, it has to be a warm transfer, which means someone will always be on the other side of the border to welcome them and put them on their way to their destination,” said Finally.
Zharkovsky’s cousin, Marina Sonina, who lives in the Chicago area, said she was relieved to hear that her loved ones were safe. She spoke to him last Saturday, a day before he left Ukraine.
“He was scared because the situation was really bad,” she said, choking.
As the attacks intensified, volunteers arrived at the Polish border to help evacuation efforts.
Liana Georgi — an artist, psychologist and LGBTQ activist who splits her time between Berlin and Istanbul — is part of a core group of volunteers with Safebow, a group formed by actor and gender-nonconforming activist Rain Dove to carry out rescue.
The group communicated via WhatsApp and started “as a mental support group to give people the courage to flee”, Georgi said from Warsaw.
“It’s about being there for each other, even if it’s virtually.” Safebow also partnered with Entin’s organization to evacuate Holocaust survivors.
Georgi said the group is focused on rescuing vulnerable minority groups, including those in the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities and people of color.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Jewish Federation of North America have been involved in bringing Jewish refugees from Ukraine to Israel, said Rabbi Noah Farkas, the former’s president and CEO.
He said his organization raised $1 million in four days, with the suffering in Ukraine resonating with members of other diaspora communities in Los Angeles.
“We have received donations from children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. We have a diverse community in Los Angeles – from Iran, Morocco and other Mizrahi communities.” Jewish Federation of Los Angeles Vice President Aaron Goldberg, who is based near Jerusalem, has helped connect newly arrived refugees with much-needed services.
“Our goal is to support their immigration and integration into Israeli society,” Goldberg said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has – in what experts call a cynical ploy – claimed he wants to “denazify” Ukraine ruled by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a Jewish president whose relatives were killed in the Holocaust.
There are fears of further Jewish repression and some of the remaining 250,000 Russian Jews are also trying to flee to Israel – but the process has been more complicated because there aren’t as many resources, Goldberg said.
“But, at this time, we don’t know how the sanctions might affect the Jewish community there,” he said.
Evacuation work for Holocaust survivors in Ukraine continues as shelling intensified this week.
Entin said on Tuesday she was working to help three couples – all Holocaust survivors – struggling after a night of shelling and devastation in Kharkiv.
“One of the couples has no water or heating,” she said.
Entin said she was trying to get a taxi driver to check on the unheated couple – whose flat was also starting to flood.
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)