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Omelchenko Olga and Kostiantyn

Kostiantyn and Olga Omelchenko met in one of Kyiv's photo studios, where they worked together. In 1938 they got married. A year later their daughter Olena was born. In 1940 they received a plot for building their own house in the new district of Kyiv. In early summer 1941 they settled in still unfinished house not far from Kozacha street. There were the same unfinished and commercial buildings around.

In late September 1941, two weeks after Nazi troops occupied Kyiv, Olga noticed light in the  house opposite to her and after a while saw its inhabitants: a woman with two young children and grandmother.

Soon, a new neighbor knocked on Omelchenko’s door and introduced herself as Hanna. She asked Olga to give her some milk for children. Olga not only gave her a cup of milk, but also packed a wallet of bread and potatoes. Being touched with such a good attitude, Hanna suddenly cried out and told her story.

Her real name was Ethel Haimivna Openheim. Before the war she was a trolley conductor. Her husband Isaak Markovich Openheim was a locksmith in tram depot. The family had three children. By the beginning of the German-Soviet war the eldest son Myron was thirteen years old, Alexander was four years old and the youngest daughter Manya was two months. The lived in Stalinka city district. In summer 1941 her husband was recruited to the Red Army. Ethel stayed with children and her mother Sima.

On the 29th of September, 1941 according to the order of the German administration they moved to the gathering place with the other Jews of Kyiv. It was situated on the corner of Melnyka and Dehtyarivska streets. Already on the approach to Babyn Yar they heard shooting and warning of local people: “Don’t go there, because you will not return back”. Ethel understood that they were being led to death. Taking younger children into the hands, she began to get out of the crowd. She and Sima managed to get to some lane and only there they saw that their eldest son Myron is absent. They have been waiting for him until dark hiding not far from their house. After they lost hope to meet him they started to search shelter where nobody knew them.

“We went to the suburbia. Where else to go? We were lucky: we saw unfinished house with a small room and a stove. So we settled there. After these events my mother’s milk disappeared. I had to ask for help from neighbors. Praise be to God, Kostiantyn Petrovich Omelchenko and his wife Olga Saveliivna were good people. They helped us all over... And another neighbor – aunt Ustya every day gave my sister a bottle of goat's milk”. From the memories of Alexander Openheim.

Openheims had only the documents that certified their Jewish origin and they had no livelihood. Moreover, Ethel was hard at the loss of her eldest son.

“Aunt Emilia was crying for her son all the time, crying hysterically. He called him Vasik [male pet name Vasyl – Auth.] and differently. Later we found out that his real name was Myron. They suffered greatly from the fact that he was killed”. From the memories of Olena, the daughter of Olga and Kostiantyn Omelchenko.

Omelchenko family was the true savior for Ethel with children and Sima: they immediately brought them blankets, clothes. Despite the fact that Kostiantyn was physically disabled since childhood, he did a good job: he provided his neighbors with home-made furniture, repaired the stove. Every time Olga cooked food for her family and for the jewish children as well. She also provided Ethel with her daughter’s document, so that the occupants did not arrest the woman at the city market.

As time elapsed, Ethel began to come to life after a tragedy. She began to care about her households more and more. In early 1942 she accidentally met her longtime friend Emma, who had the status of folksdeutche (the ethnic German) and worked in the city administration. Emma helped Ethel to get children documents about their Ukrainian origin. They also had to be baptized and to receive documents about Orthodox religion.

Families of Omelchenko and Openheim helped each other in different ways. When there was deficit of food, Ethel and Olga visited the nearby villages and exchanged clothes for food or did temporary jobs. Sometimes they went further, in particular to Vinnitsa. During one of such trips they got into dangerous situation and Ethel helped Olga to solve the problem.

It was also dangerous in Kyiv. Fedir, the neighbor of Omelchenko family, understood that Jews were hiding nearby and constantly threatened to expose them. Kostiantyn had to buy vodka for Fedir who abused alcohol many times so he did not inform against them.

Thanks to support of Omelchenko family four Jewish people survived by the moment when Kyiv was liberated from Nazis on the 6th of November 1943. Nevertheless, new trials of fate expected for them in the nearest future.

“We still rarely speak about rescuing the Jewish people. Only one my female friend knows. You never know what the attitude of people is…” From the memories of Olena, the daughter of Olga and Kostiantyn Omelchenko.

Ethel with her mother and children returned back to their apartments in Stalinka city district. She had no information about her husband Isaac. Her numerous requests were always answered that he “disappeared”. Later Ethel met another man and married him.

In 1947 the former Openheim’s neighbor Antonina Pushko accidentally saw Isaac during her trip to Lviv and informed family about him. Isaac was confident that Ethel and children died in Babyn Yar. He was captured in 1941 and imprisoned in the concentration camp, where he fortunately survived introducing himself as Leonid Mykhailovich Openchenko. After his liberation he tried to pass verification in the Soviet filtration camp, but they didn’t believe him and sent to work in the regime Lviv construction and installation management. After learning about his family, Isaac got permission to visit them. He returned back to Lviv with his son Alexander. Ethel and daughter joined them soon.

"It was like magnetic wish of us to come back home to Kyiv, especially to parents. They made a lot of effort to review the case of their father. Finally, he was allowed to return to his former job in Kyiv. However, they were denied registration. He lived in Bilichi and was under the supervision of the militia. At that time I was an adult boy. And without anyone’s permission I wrote a letter to Stalin about our difficulties. I do not know who the letter came to, but soon there was an order to register my father! Everyone was surprised, but I was glad and silent about my act".

The friendship between Omelchenko and Openheim lasted for life. They regularly met and helped each other.

“We regularly kept contact with Alexander, but he died on the 12th of May. Now on the 12th day of every month we have phone conversations with his son Dima”. From the Olena, the daughter of Omelchenko family.

On the 5th of June 2000 Yad Vashem Memorial Complex honored Kostiantyn and Olga Omelchenko with honorary title “Righteous among the Nations”.

Svitlana Demchenko


National Museum of History of Ukraine in the Second World War

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