Fyodor Michajlitschenko, who as a young man protected the future Chief Rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau as a Jweish child, will be recognized this week as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.” The honor, awarded by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial project, will be given to Michajlitschenko's daughters, as he himself has since passed away.
The “Righteous Among the Nations” award honors Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Fyodor, a native of Russia, was sent to Buchenwald as a teenager after a neighbor turned him in to Nazi authorities. There he met Yisrael Lau, then an eight-year-old boy whose parents had been murdered.
Fyodor cared for the young boy, stealing food from the Nazis and cooking it for him, and providing him with earmuffs during the freezing winter. “The Russian Fyodor took care of me like a father for his son,” Rabbi Lau later recalled.
As Buchenwald was liberated, Fyodor protected Yisrael Lau with his own body as gunshots rang out around the camp. Both survived, and were soon parted, with Fyodor returning to Russia while Yisrael was sent to live with his uncle.
The future Rabbi Lau always remembered his protector, but knew only his first name and place of birth, and was unable to find more information in order to make contact. Only 63 years later, after Fyodor's death, did an investigator finally manage to figure out his full name and identity.
Rabbi Lau grew up in Israel, where he was ordained as a rabbi and eventually served first as Chief Rabbi of Netanya, and then as Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel. He has written numerous books, including one detailing his experiences as the youngest survivor of Buchenwald, and has received the prestigious Israel Prize for his life's work. He now heads the Yad Vashem project.
The ceremony honoring Fyodor Michajlitschenko will take place on Tuesday. His daughters Yulia and Yelena are expected to fly in to Israel to attend the event.