When the bombs started raining on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, last month, Tatyana Zhuravliova, an 83-year-old Ukrainian Jew, experienced a horrific déjà vu: she felt the same terror she did as a child when the Nazis launched air raids on her city of Odesa.
“Those anxieties creeped up again through my entire body,” Zhuravliova added, “fears I didn’t even realize were still lying inside me.”
Her eyes welled up with tears as she remembered hiding beneath the table from bombings during WWII and finally fleeing to Kazakhstan with her mother when the Nazis and their minions massacred tens of thousands of Jews in Odesa.
“I’m too elderly now to dash to the bunker.” So I simply stayed in my flat and prayed that the bombs wouldn’t kill me,” retired doctor Zhuravliova told The Associated Press on Sunday.
She understood she had to run again if she didn’t want to die as Russia’s military strikes on Ukraine became more savage and devastated residential apartment towers. As a result, Zhuravliova accepted a Jewish organization’s offer to transport her out of Ukraine to safety.
In an unexpected turn of events, some of the 10,000 Holocaust survivors who had been living in Ukraine have now been relocated to Germany, the country that was responsible for the outbreak of World War II and the massacre of 6 million Jews across Europe.
Zhuravliova was one of the first four Jewish Holocaust survivors to be evacuated from Ukraine by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, commonly known as the Claims Conference, which is situated in New York. The organization represents the world’s Jews in negotiations for compensation and restitution for Holocaust victims and their heirs, as well as providing assistance to Holocaust survivors across the world.
On Sunday, a second batch of 14 Holocaust survivors was transported out of Ukraine, many of them were sick and bedridden. The Claims Conference is working with its allies to assist as many Holocaust survivors out of Ukraine as possible, including the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC.
Because of their deteriorating health, over 500 Holocaust survivors in Ukraine are in desperate need of assistance, according to the JDC. Their evacuation is a key priority.
Transporting such vulnerable individuals out of Ukraine is a tough and complex operation, with frequent shelling and artillery bombardment making any evacuation very perilous. It entails locating medical personnel and ambulances in a variety of conflict zones, crossing international boundaries, and even persuading survivors who are sick and unable to leave their homes without assistance to flee into uncertainty once more, but this time without the vitality of youth.
The hazards of staying behind, on the other hand, are exceedingly substantial. Boris Romanchenko, 96, was slain in an incident in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv earlier this month. He survived various Nazi detention camps during WWII.
According to Amos Lev-Ran of the JDC, it is unknown if any further survivors have been murdered in Ukraine’s war, although some have had their homes shelled.
“No one can comprehend the terror survivors had during the Holocaust,” said Ruediger Mahlo, a German Claims Conference employee. “Now they have to flee again – their security, all of their familiar belongings have been taken away from them, and they are forced to live in terror and uncertainty.”
Mahlo began planning the evacuations less than two weeks ago, consulting with government officials, diplomats, non-governmental organizations, and border officers to ensure that everything went well.
“Getting them to a safe place of comfort and offering whatever we can is a high concern for us,” Mahlo said, adding that the first group made it out safely. “Everyone was working nonstop, but it’s still a miracle that we were able to get them out safely.”
The elderly migrants are transported to Jewish or ecumenical nursing facilities around Germany upon their arrival.
Around 3,500 young and old Ukrainian Jews have arrived in Germany as of last week, and the government has already provided them a special path to permanent immigration as part of Germany’s continuous attempts to recompense Jews since the Holocaust.
In all, German officials have recorded around 250,000 Ukrainian refugees, however the true figure is likely to be far higher because they do not require a visa to enter.
After a 26-hour journey, Zhuravliova and two other 83-year-old Kyiv survivors, Larisa Dzuenko and Galina Ulyanova, arrived on the outskirts of Frankfurt on Friday and were placed in a nursing facility. A fourth woman was sent to another nursing facility in the city.
Ulyanova, who has been sick for seven years and hasn’t left her eighth-floor flat, had to be carried down the stairs by two men to board an ambulance in Kyiv. Dzuenko, a former engineer with severe diabetes, required IV infusions throughout the long ambulance voyage.
Both Ulyanova and Dzuenko were devastated as children when they were forced to flee the Nazis with their parents. Ulyanova and Dzuenko escaped to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, respectively, before returning to Kyiv.
The three women appeared relieved to be in Germany, sitting around a table with red and yellow tulips in a bright, large room of their nursing home on Sunday.
“Everyone has been extremely lovely to us here. “The meal is delicious, we are safe, and the staff is quite kind,” Ulyanova, a former nurse, said.
“When I was a small kid, my mother and I had to leave the Germans to Uzbekistan, where we had no food and I was terrified of all those large rats,” Dzuenko, a lady with a fast grin and wide eyes, said. “I’ve always felt the Germans were bad, yet they were the first to reach out to us and save us.”
Despite Germany’s terrible treatment of Jews in the past, Zhuravliova said she was pleased to be in the nation now.
“It appears to me that this country has learnt from its mistakes and is now attempting to do something positive for us,” she remarked.