Stepan Gonchar Ukraine
Locipenok, Ukraine… Summer 1942 – Soon after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Einsatzgruppen followed behind the army and began systematically murdering entire Jewish communities. As the Germans approached Nemirov, a town of some 6,000 Jews, one man received word of the impending Aktion and told his niece, Valentina, and her mother, Rachelle, to leave town. The two women immediately fled to the neighboring city of Vinnitsa. Upon their arrival, they learned that the entire Jewish community in their hometown had been massacred. They also realized that they were not safe in Vinnitsa and, with nowhere to go, decided to return to Nemirov.
As Valentina and Rachelle were traveling back to their home, they ran into a woman Rachelle recognized. Before the war, Rachelle was a nurse, and this woman had been her patient. Because this woman had small children, she did not think it was safe to hide Rachelle and Valentina in her home. After discussing where Rachelle and Valentina could go, they realized that this woman lived next to the Gonchar family, who were friends of Rachelle and Valentina. The woman offered to escort the two Jewish women to Locipenok, the small town in Ukraine where she and the Gonchar family lived, because it was too dangerous for Rachelle and Valentina to travel alone.
The Gonchar family consisted of Denis, Fedora, and their two teenage sons, Stepan and Ivan. When Rachelle and Valentina approached the family, they immediately agreed to hide them. Valentina, who was able to pass as a Christian, secured false identity papers and soon left to search for work. Rachelle remained in hiding for two years. In the winter, she lived in a small hole behind the oven. During the warmer months, she lived in a shed. Stepan and Ivan brought food and water to Rachelle.
After the village was liberated by the Soviet army in March 1944, Rachelle and Valentina returned to their home. Valentina maintained her friendship with the Gonchars for the rest of their lives.
Stepan Gonchar lived in the same village until he died in January 2014.