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Mikhail Zirchenko Ukraine

Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine… Fall 1941 – When the Germans occupied Ukraine during their invasion of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Zirchenko’s father, Pavel, was a man of influence. He was the accountant for a large collective farm.

Seven Jewish families on the farm appealed to Pavel Zirchenko for help. The Germans did not initially search the collective for hidden Jews as every extra hand was needed on the farm. The Zirchenko family hid thirty-two Jews in different fields on the farm.

Eventually, the Germans heard rumors of Jews living on the collective farm. The Jews hiding on the farm again appealed to Pavel for help. He promised them that as long as he was alive, he would do both what was possible and what was impossible to keep them safe.

Mikhail, only fifteen at the time, was already known for his artistic talents; he dreamed of becoming an artist. His father had copies of German and Soviet identity documents. Pavel asked Mikhail to try to forge the identity documents for the Jews they were hiding. Mikhail used an iron and raw potatoes to copy the crest from the Soviet identity documents. He then used these stencils to carefully copy the crest onto the forged documents. Mikhail and Pavel spent an entire night forging documents for the thirty-two Jews.  Pavel feared that he would soon be asked to present documents for each of the workers on the collective farm.

The next morning, his fears became a reality. Pavel was called to the main office of the collective farm. He was able to convince the Nazi officers that there were no Jews on his farm and that every hand was needed for the success of the crops. The forged documents proved to the Germans that there were no Jews on the farm. After the area was liberated, both Pavel and Mikhail joined the Soviet army.  The thirty-two Jews survived the war.

Mikhail Zirchenko is in his 80s and lives in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.