By GREER FAY CASHMAN
Emotional meetings are taking place in Israel this week between Righteous among the Nations from Belarus and Jewish Holocaust survivors whose lives they saved.
The meetings were initiated by the Israel Embassy in Minsk, which, in coordination with the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, arranged for the delegation to come to Israel and meet the people who benefited from their selflessness and generosity of spirit.
Aside from the importance of bringing the two groups together, it was of no small significance for the visitors from Minsk to see that in saving a particular person, they had also saved future children and grandchildren, some of whom joined the visitors on Monday when they went to Beit Hanassi to meet with President Shimon Peres, and later in the day when they went to Yad Vashem.
The group from Minsk was accompanied by the ambassador of Belarus and members of his staff.
Pinchas Avivi, the director of the Foreign Ministry's division for Central Europe and Eurasia, said there was no higher honor Jews could bestow on non-Jews than to recognize them as Righteous among the Nations.
He also emphasized that it was a matter of significance for President Peres, who has nostalgic ties with Belarus, to meet the delegation before making a visit to Belarus later this year.
A senior member of the President's staff denied that any such visit was on the agenda, but Avivi, when asked by The Jerusalem Post when the visit would take place, replied that it would be in September or October, and that it would be a roots visit.
Depending on which biographical notes one reads, Peres was born in either Poland or Belarus (although the Lithuanians have also laid claim to him). It all stems from changing borders. The village in which he was born is today part of Belarus, but at the time of his birth, it was under Polish control.
There were too many people present at Beit Hanassi for each to tell his or her individual story, so two sides of one specific case were selected to speak from the perspective of the savior, on the one hand, and the saved, on the other.
The Davidson family of Minsk had been friendly with the non- Jewish Kanapatsky family. When Jews were rounded up and confined to the ghetto, the Kanapatskys, at great risk, smuggled food into the ghetto for the Davidsons and others.
"A lot can be said by the Righteous among the Nations, but we cannot tell it all," said whitehaired Anna Trofimova, nee Kanapatskaya, as she recalled how the Jews had been hounded and persecuted.
Even though her parents' house was small, she said there was never any question about providing shelter for the Davidsons. Initially, it was for Isroel Davidson, the father of the family, who escaped from the ghetto to the Kanapatsky home and lived with them for a year, spending most of his time in a deep pit he had dug.
In fact, he hid himself so well that when the Nazis came with sniffer dogs, they did not detect his presence, said Trofimova, adding, "When he came, we had no idea for how long it would be."
One of the Davidson daughters, Rachel Shmielowitch, recalled that gradually other members of the family escaped from the ghetto and found their way to the Kanapatsky home. They were fed, sheltered and given clothes, such as those worn by local villagers, and were later taken to the forest, where they joined the Jewish partisans.
"There were pogroms all the time, and mass killings. We lived in constant fear. Every day we were on the verge of death," Shmielowitch said.
She also told of a mass killing in March 1942 in which 5,000 people were killed in one fell swoop in the heart of the ghetto.
"I was saved by a miracle," she said.
Visibly moved by what he had heard, Peres said that he had fond childhood memories of Belarus, but he, too, had suffered loss because his beloved grandfather, along with other relatives and nearly everyone from his village, had been murdered by the Nazis.
"Many people perform one heroic feat in their lives," he told his guests, "but you risked your lives and the lives of your families day after day. You are proof that no matter what the circumstances, human decency can prevail."
Peres made the point that the risk-taking had been undertaken with no reward in mind. It had simply been a noble act.
"I thank you in the name of the Jewish people," he said.