Holocaust Hero: Lost and Found

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Since surviving the Holocaust as a child, Israel's former chief rabbi spent decades searching for the man who saved his life but that search has ended.

Sixty-four years after Israel Meir Lau was liberated from the Nazi concentration camp of Buchenwald, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem officially recognized his wartime rescuer, Fyodor Michajlitschenko.

Thanks to a news report about a recently uncovered Nazi document, Lau learned the full name of his savior and tracked down the man's daughters in Russia.

"The phone rang at my house and speaking was Naftali Menashe from the Voice of Israel," Lau recalled. "Like a thunder in a bright day, he said 'Rabbi Lau, does the name Fyodor means anything to you?'"

Lau remembered Fyodor as the man who saved his life so many years ago.

Fyodor has since passed away, but the newly-found information allowed the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial to posthumously name the eighty-year-old Fyodor a "righteous among the nations." It was Israel's highest honor granted to non-Jews.

"He used to steal potatoes every day to cook for me in hot soup," Lau said. "He made a defender on the ears made of wool to protect my ears in the freezing parades. He covered me with his body in the day of liberation April 11, 1945 when the American army led by General Patton broke into Buchenwald and the German shot from all the gun machines they had at the time."

Lau said Fyodor covered him and saved his life that day.

Lau, now 72, first learned the full name of his rescuer through a July 2008 report by the Associated Press about the discovery of a secret Nazi archive that a radio journalist had got hold of.

His daughters, Yulia Selutina and Yelena Belayaeva, disclosed that their father often spoke about a young Jewish boy he took care of in Buchenwald.

On Tuesday the daughters participated in the ceremony for their father at the Israeli Holocaust Memorial of Yad Vashem.

Yulia Selutina was moved to tears as she accepted a medal and certificate of honour on her father's behalf.

*Originally published August 6, 2009

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