Holocaust survivors from Ukraine celebrate High Holy Days in Israel for the first time

This year, Holocaust survivors Lena Panchako and Svetlana Mogilovkin celebrated Rosh Hashanah for the first time in Israel.

Lena Panchako (photo credit:  Yad Ezer L’Haver Via Ma'ariv)
Lena Panchako
(photo credit: Yad Ezer L’Haver Via Ma'ariv)

Holocaust survivors Lena Panchako and Svetlana Mogilovkin had to flee the horror of the war in Ukraine after they were forced to leave the city of their childhood during World War II. This year they celebrated Rosh Hashanah for the first time in Israel.

Svetlana, an 89-year-old Holocaust survivor, immigrated to Israel from Ukraine after the Russian invasion. "I survived World War II; I was 8 years old when the war broke out in 1941. The Germans rounded up the city's Jews, pushed us into a pit in the water tower and threw grenades. The Jews who were the last to enter the pit and were left in the upper part died, and when the bodies were pulled out they came to us. We stayed alive by a miracle," she said.

"After the Russian invasion this year, I went through the horrors of the Holocaust for the second time. I have not seen such fear as I have today, when I am almost 90 years old. I am from the bombed city of Kramatorsk (located in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine). The hospital in the city was destroyed and the houses were left in ruins. I managed to escape, but my 10-year-old great-grandson had to stay in Ukraine because of a ban on leaving abroad."

This year she celebrated Rosh Hashanah for the first time in Israel, and representatives of the Russian-speaking Chabad community came to the hotel of the Jewish Agency in Acre where she was staying and told her about the traditions of the holiday. "I listened to the sound of the shofar and was surrounded by good people. I was happy to celebrate Rosh Hashanah in the Land of Israel, in a place that is a safe and enveloping home for me. The warm house and the International Christian Embassy made my dream come true."

From Odesa to Acre

“When the Germans invaded Ukraine in 1941, I was evacuated by ship with my family from Odesa. It was on November 2—I remember it like it was yesterday.”

Lena Panchako, Holocaust survivor

Panchako, an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor, recalls: "When the Germans invaded Ukraine in 1941, I was evacuated by ship with my family from Odesa. It was on November 2—I remember it like it was yesterday." Panchako's son died in 2004 from complications of tuberculosis, and her daughter died in 2019 from liver disease.

Svetlana Mogilovkin (credit:  Yad Ezer L’Haver Via Ma'ariv)Svetlana Mogilovkin (credit: Yad Ezer L’Haver Via Ma'ariv)

Last June, Panchako was evacuated from her home again, three months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and she immigrated to Israel with her husband. First, the couple stayed at the Jewish Agency hotel in Acre and then they moved to live in the house of the Yad Ezer association under the auspices of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem.

"Since my childhood in World War II and the period after the war when Stalin was in power and religion was considered 'opium for the people' and was forbidden, the celebration of Rosh Hashanah for me was an important step in the process of returning to Jewish tradition. This year, when we celebrated in Beit Ha'am with other immigrants, we greeted each other for the first time with a blessing: 'Happy New Year' in Hebrew."