“Jewish Heroes” project thanks the historian and ethnographer Vasiliy Zagura, a resident of Kusnishcha of the Kovel district of the Volyn region, for help in preparing the material.
On May 14, 2021, Ukraine celebrated for the first time the Day of Remembrance of Ukrainians who saved Jews during World War II. This memorable date was introduced by a special resolution of the Verkhovna Rada. Ukraine ranks fourth, after Poland, the Netherlands and France, in terms of the number of the Righteous Among the Nations. However, not all heroes who risked their lives for the sake of others are known today.
One of these little-known heroes is Anisim Sulik, a peasant from the village of Kusnishcha.
Two days after the start of the Great Patriotic War, the Nazis entered the Volyn town of Lyuboml. At that time, there were practically only Jews living in Lyuboml. Luboml Poles were in the minority, and there were very few Ukrainians – they lived mainly in villages. For several days, the shtetl plunged into utter chaos. City center, market, Chelmskaya street – burned to the ground.
About a week later, the invaders issued an order: all Jews to sew a white stripe with a blue star on the right sleeve. It was allowed to be on the street strictly from 6 am to 6 pm. Soon, another order followed: all Jews from 14 to 64 years old to appear in the city center, to the cinema. If they fail to appear, they will be shot. Five men were taken from the crowd of those who came by order of the occupation administration. And without explanation they were shot. This was done with one goal in mind – to intimidate the Jews and prevent any thoughts of resistance. The next day, July 3, 1941, the Germans pasted another decree on Lyuboml – on forced labor: all Jews, women and men, from 16 to 65 years old, were obliged to go to work organized by the Nazis every morning.
The order for resettlement in the ghetto and forced labor was only the beginning of a series of atrocities that the community of Lyubov went through. On July 22, 1941, covered trucks arrived in the town. Policemen under the command of the Gestapo put young strong men in cars and took them to the building where the occupation administration was located. Under mock taunts and rods, they were forced to give up all their valuables, were again pushed into trucks and taken out of town to the pits that had been dug in advance. There, next to the city massacre, the men were ordered to descend into the trenches and were shot with machine guns.
On August 22, 1941, the next stage of extermination of the Jews of Lyuboml began, which lasted 8 days. Only widows, orphans and some male specialists remained in the town, without whom the German administration and army units could not do. At the end of September 1942, shortly before the liquidation of the Lyuboml ghetto, Poles and Ukrainians began to come to the Jews, offering help. Among Christians there were many collaborators or those whose relatives worked for the Germans. It was among them that rumors began to circulate about the final extermination of the Jewish community.
The Germans tried to instill in the Jews of Lyuboml that the rumors were groundless, and that it would not come to a final decision. The Gebitskommissar personally promised the head of the Judenrat, that if the Jews were able to collect enough gold, silver, jewelry, cloth and leather cuts for the needs of the German army, then the German authorities would even protect them in every possible way. This was said on the eve of Sukkot, the Jewish holiday marking the exit from Egypt.
On the first day of the holiday, in the morning, a passer-by knocked into a house filled with people driven from the ghetto. He greeted in Yiddish and asked to go out for a conversation with Yidl-Yudel Sandelboim. The mysterious stranger turned out to be the head of the Ukrainian police, Josef Prikazyuk. Without looking at Yudel, the father of three, who was dumbfounded by such a visit, Prikazyuk said: “The ghetto will be liquidated tonight. Run!”
By the night of October 1, 1942, it became clear that the word of the Gebitskommissar was not worth a penny. Germans and Ukrainian policemen surrounded Lyuboml, preparing for the action. Yudel Sandelboim, his sister Rachel-Raisa Sandelboim, and Yudel's two children, Mendel and Raya, managed to get out of the town.
Yudel and Rachel decided to go to the village of Kusnishcha, located a few kilometers from Lyuboml. The headman there was Vasiliy Sulik, who also once promised to help Yudel Sandelboim and another resident of Lyuboml, Meir London, with shelter.
The headman greeted the Jews warmly. For two days, the Sandelboims, who fled from the SS men, hid with the headman, but as soon as he realized that Yudel and Rachel had no money with them, he immediately demanded to leave his house.
Somehow having reached the neighboring forest, exhausted adults and children fell to the frozen ground. Their position seemed completely hopeless. Yudel decided to return to Kusnishcha, hide in some shed and let the children sleep. And so they did – waited for the night and wandered into the village. They noticed from afar in some courtyard a cowshed with open doors. Trying not to make noise, they climbed under the roof, where the hay is stored, and fell asleep. The owner of the barn was Anisim Sulik. The elder Vasily Sulik was a distant relative of him.
Anisim Yakovlevich Sulik was from a family of indigenous Kusnischans. “A great miracle happened to us, – Rachel Sandelboim later recalled. – It was this Ukrainian that hid us for 22 months”.
On the very first day, Anisim Sulik brought the Sandelboims a bottle of water and a loaf of bread. For the starving fugitives from the ghetto, this simple meal was truly a royal treat. The Sandelboims, already accustomed to the fact that there were few disinterested saviors in the district, asked the peasant why he was helping them, the Jews. Anisim looked carefully and surprised the fugitives with his answer: "I read the Bible at night, and it says that some of the Jews will definitely be saved”.
In the hiding place Sulik had equipped for the Jewish family on the “towers” of the cowshed, it was pitch black. The distance between the ceiling and the roof is just over a meter. The entire area of the shelter is no more than 10 meters.
For many months, Anisim had not only to beware of neighbors and Germans, but also to persuade his wife to leave the Jews at home. Hristya Sulik empathized with the tragedy of the Sandelboims, but was terribly afraid for the lives of her own children, husband and 90-year-old father. For sheltering fugitive Jews, all Suliks, young and old, were threatened with execution. But the head of the family did not listen to his wife. Being himself in very cramped conditions, living from hand to mouth, he shared the latter with the Sandelboims, bringing them once a week a loaf of bread and some boiled potatoes.
It was very dangerous to leave the shelter or somehow indicate their presence, so the Sandelboims for all months have never been able not only to go to the bathhouse, but simply to speak in a full voice. They had to hide not only from neighbors or patrols, but also from Anisim's children, who knew nothing about the Jews hiding in their courtyard. If they uncovered the secret to peers – everyone would have died. Just in case, there was a large lock on the barn, the key to which was only in the owner's possession.
The most difficult times came in March 1944, when the front line approached Kovel. The German part entered the village. Anisim was hijacked to work, and the Germans themselves stood at his place. The hostess, who was so terribly afraid for the life of her family, flatly refused to bring the Jews food. But on the other hand, she was able to persuade the German warriors to stay in a hut, and not in a cowshed.
The Sandelboims were preparing for death: even if the Germans did not find them, they would die of hunger. But again a miracle happened: their savior escaped from forced labor, rushed home and straight into the barn. For thirteen days of the hunger strike, the fugitives were so exhausted that they could not say a couple of phrases in response. The kids, Mendel and Raya, practically did not move and looked little like living people. Sulik quickly left and brought from home a crumb of bread and a jug of sour milk. While the Sandelboims eagerly devoured food, the peasant said that the Germans began to retreat westward, burning everything in their path.
“You can slowly get out of your hiding place and hide in the field, in the rye, – Anisim suggested. – It will be a shame to burn in a barn after almost two years of the battle for life”. But exhausted, with small children, the Sandelboims could not walk and decided to take the risk, remaining in the barn.
All the villagers, including Suliks, quickly packed up their belongings and went into the forest surrounding the village. Soon there was a fight in the streets. Shells exploded near the Sandelboim hideout, bullets ripping through the wooden walls of the barn. Everything was clouded with a black veil of smoke – the neighboring houses and the village church were burning. Fate showed mercy to the Jewish family one more time – their hideout remained intact and almost unscathed in the middle of the ashes.
Finally, on July 25, 1944, Soviet troops entered Kusnishcha. Two days later, Rachel, Yudel, Raya and Mendel, for the first time in many months of “playing hide and seek with death”, came out into the world. During the motionless sitting in the shelter, Raya began to have problems with the musculoskeletal system, and ten-year-old Mendel seemed hoarse – he could not speak normally, only whispered.
Ardently saying goodbye to their savior and his wife, on the first Sunday after their miraculous liberation, the Jews returned to their native Lyuboml. Some of the houses were destroyed to the ground, while others were left only with boxes that frightened them with the blackness of broken windows. Not having met a single neighbor or acquaintance, not seeing a single Jewish face, the survivors realized that a real catastrophe had occurred. In the surviving buildings of the once completely Jewish Lyuboml, different people lived.
The first thing the Sandelboims did was to bury their relatives in the Jewish cemetery.
After the war, the Sandelboim family left for Poland and later immigrated to Israel.
In 1963, Anisim Sulik had an accident on the way from the regional center to Kusnishcha. Having received serious injuries, he soon died, without getting the title of Righteous Among the Nations. Five years later, his wife also passed away. But his feat was not forgotten, and today he is remembered both in Ukraine and in Israel, where the descendants of the Jews he saved live.
1907 – 1963