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By all means by kindness

How a Bielorussian Woman Sophia Yarmolovich
saved the life of a Jewish girl by the name of Tsilya

(Translation of a Bielorussian newspaper article,
Kalishchik saligorska 5 sakavika, 1994)

Kindness pays us by kindness. In nowadays we can hear something else. For kindness somebody pays by evil, as an excuse - nowadays are hard days. But real morality tells us: by all means- by kindness.

Before the Great Patriotic war Sophia Nicolayevna was 34. Her life with her husband Ignat was modest and friendly. They had their own farm with not a big area of earth. She was a lovely, black-eyed romantical girl. Her nickname was “Cherry”. She always had in her mind her mother’s order “Be helpful in need and don’t take a thing which doesn’t belong to you.” She had sincere and friendly relations with her neighbours.

The war turned everything upside down. Not only the neighbours became enemies, even the brothers did. One went to the forest to fight against the fascists; another went to the police to work for the fascists. So they were on the opposite sides, to shoot each other. The streets were overcrowded with strange people, strange language.

The Jews were isolated from the first days. Tsilya, a thin, lovely girl with black eyes did not come to the Yarmoloviches any more. The fascists made the Jews work. It was a working force free of charge. Sophia Nicolayevna together with her husband decided to take the girl for a worker in their kitchen garden and with their horse. They got used to her work and was of great pity of her. But the person who was responsible for the Jews didn’t like the idea of the Yarmoloviches. Sophya had to speak to him, defending the girl. That time “the guest” was to leave. But not for a long time. The next trouble came after the first. All the Jews were taken together, not knowing where are they going to with their poor bags and sacks, being led by the rough policemen, who pushed them, yelling at them from time to time.

That same time an interpreter Osvald worked in the ghetto. His mother was Polish, his father was German. There were rumours that he was Jewish. He passed over information that the fascists were going to shoot all the Jews in the Yablonsky forest. The youngest and the healthiest people managed to run away from the awful slaughter. All her life Sophia Yarmolovich had in mind that morning. She got up till the sun rose up. The silence was so deep, but all of a sudden the noise of the motorcycles and the automobiles filled the air. The woman understood everything. Her heart was beating with fear and horror. She went out to feed her cows. Suddenly she noticed a body of a woman. Her tousled hair, dirty fingers on the earth… With her husband Ignat, they reached the body asking, “Who are you?” She put up her head. It was almost impossible to see in that face the beautiful black eye browed Tsilya. She was absolutely strengthless, her eyes were surrounded with black circles as a result of sleepless nights. Finally Ingat came to a decision. He offered her to hide herself in the leaves of the potatoes in the vegetable garden. He found her in the dusk. It was not simple.

The closest neighbour was a policeman. On the left there was an observation tower. Everything was clearly visible. Ingat had to go through the potato field four times until he could reach Tsilya. Her whisper, begging not to betray her, not to give her out, made him to stop. She promised to leave the place, her strengthless voice gave out her despair. Ignat came home , told his wife where is exactly the poor girl. Sophya has taken some meal and drink. She lay down next to the Jewish girl, feeding her and giving her a drink. She tried to comfort her and asked her to knock at the door three times if she would come next time. A great deal of time had passed. Once at night Tsilya knocked at the door of the Yarmoloviches. They let her come in, gave her some meal. She asked for winter shoes. Sophya pulled off her own boots, gave them to Tsilya. In the middle of the night Ignat saw her off to the forest. They walked carefully, pretending that they were picking up mushrooms. Looking at then from a distance, some could think that it was only one figure.

All the people had been suffering for the period of war, but the Jewish people had been suffering much more. Such were the reminiscences of the old and the young ladies. Finally the Victory came. Tsilya came back together with the other saved people. She was grateful to the neighbours when coming to visit them.

The postwar period made some Jews to leave their destroyed places to find out something better for their lives, for their broken fates. Tsilya appeared at the Yarmoloviches house. She was sad, upset and embarrassed. “I‘d sold my house”, she told. “I’d got some money.” She handed the money to Sophya. “Let the money be at your house, maybe some time I’ll come back.” Later on Sophya Nicolayevna gave the money back to Tsilya. Neither Tsilya nor Sophya counted the money. Whenever Tsilya gave it to Sophya, the moment Sophya gave it back to Tsilya.

Tsilya was only twenty when she left to seek her new luck.

Some time had passed. The Yarmoloviches had got a letter from Africa. It was a picture enclosed. A very nice lady, beautifully dressed, nothing in common with that poor Tsilya, Jewish girl whom the Yarmoloviches saved. Then one letter more, one picture more. Happily smiled Tsilya with her nice husband. Then many letters more, pictures, parcels. Whenever Aunt Sonya wrote a letter in her turn to the African niece, the girl clerk from the Safeguard office asked her to stop the correspondence. That moment we could stop the story as even, but…

Once upon a time Sophya Nicolayevna had a dream, sleeping for a while, that she was going to visit Africa. A knock at the door made her open her eyes. Three men brought regards from Tsilya. One of them was a citizen of the same place in the past. The other, a lovely one was Tsilya’s grandson. Sonya was confused, put apples on the table. They were in a rush, wanted to leave. “The Africans” for the first visited the place “Mir” as Tsilya asked, then somebody explained them that aunt Sonya had sold the house and lived in Soligorsk in the country house. The men brought to Sonya greetings and 1000 rubles. It was 1992. That period it was not a big sum of money. Tsilya could not imagine how the state was able to deprive its citizens of the money. After forty years the women renewed their correspondence.

“Dear Sonya, how are you feeling” Half in Russian, half in Bielorussian. Tsilya was writing “I can’t forget you” It is impossible to forget you” Once Sophya Nicholyeva’s son-in-law got ill. The French medicine could be taken only by the help of Tsilya. The parcel was sent to Minsk. Six packets of “Danol”. The Bielorussian woman did know that Tsilya lived at her daughter’s apartment in Israel.

It happened so, that the medicine was used by Sophya Nicolaqyevna herself. She lost her consciousness: the blood vessel has broken. The ambulance took her to the hospital. It was a gastric ulcer. Tsilya’s pills, which were kindly sent by her daughter had worked. For eleven days the gastric ulcer formed a scar. Sophya Nicolayevna left the hospital and wrote a letter to Israel. It was addressed to the 70 years old woman, to the grandmother, but for Sophya Nicolayevna the woman was the same Jewish black-eyed girl Tsilya by name. The letter was long and detailed. Everything was about her today’s life about her sad fate, about the necessity of the medicine that came in time.


The editorial board is looking through the letters from abroad. Every letter has it’s first line “Dear Sonya… Sophya Nicolayevna shows to the corresespondents a Bielorussian newspaper “Narodnaya gazeta” of the 4th of December 1994, where it was written an article about the executioner of the Jewish people, Semyon Seraphymovich. The same article tells us about a number of Jewish people that were saved by Osvald, the 19-year-old interpreter who works as a catholic priest in Israel, in Haifa. His name now is Father Daniel and he saves human souls.

Sophya Nicolayevna is 82. She remembers every date, every detail of her life. She is able to read without glasses. Her mother’s order is still in her mind. “Be out of harm’s way.” Don’t grudge anybody.”

At the very end of the article, the author of it mentions the title, that by all means a person is to pay for kindness by kindness. Those who do kind things have a long life, although in the humane memory.

Hvedar Gurinovitch (the author)

Note: Sonia passed away in the summer of 2003.

Return to Tzila Zakheim story

February 2011


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