Rav Lau’s Rescuer Named ‘Righteous of the Nations,’ to be Honored this Tuesday


rabbi-lauFeodor Mikhailichenko was born in Rostov in 1927. When the Germans occupied Rostov in 1942 his naval school was evacuated from the war zone to the rear, into the unoccupied part of the Soviet Union. Feodor was sick and stayed behind with his parents. A neighbor denounced him and he was sent to forced labor in Germany. He was 16 years old when he was arrested by the Gestapo in Dortmund, Germany, in November 1943, charged with robbery and sent to Buchenwald concentration camp where he became prisoner #35692. Inmates in the camp had established a well-organized communist inspired resistance network which was led by German political prisoners, many of whom had been in the camp for many years. They succeeded in having the Camp Commander set up a special childrens’ barrack – “Block 8” – that accommodated youngsters who had been sent to Germany for forced labor. Mikhailichenko was put in this barrack.

In winter 1944-45 the camps in the East were being evacuated in the face of the advancing Red Army, and tens of thousands of inmates were marched westward under terrible conditions in the so-called “death marches”. A significant number of these marchers arrived in Buchenwald, including some Jewish children who had somehow survived the horrors in the east. Among these children was eight-year-old Yisroel Meir Lau who was to become one of the camp’s youngest survivors.

Yisroel Meir Lau was born in 1937 in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland. Most of the community was destroyed in 1942 when the city’s Jews were deported to Treblinka. Among the victims was Rav Yisroel’s father, the rov of Piotrków, Rav Moshe Chaim Lau and his 13-year-old brother, Shmuel. Rav Yisroel, at the time a five-year-old known as Lolek, his brother Naftali and their mother survived this liquidation, but it was only a temporary respite. In November 1944 during selection the mother was taken. She must have known what awaited her and made what was probably a most difficult decision. She decided to part from her young son and entrusted him to his older brother, Naftali, who was taken to labor camp. The two brothers were never to see their mother again – Chaya Lau was murdered in Ravensbrueck. Naftali, now in charge of young Lolek, was taken to the slave labor camp Czestochowa and from there to Buchenwald. Naftali fulfilled his mother’s last wish. He protected his younger brother and shielded him from all dangers. Carefully hidden in a bag on his brother’s back Lolek arrived in Buchenwald concentration camp in January 1945.

Upon their arrival in Buchenwald the two brothers were separated, and Lolek was put in Block 8 with other youngsters and children. It was his great fortune that even now, having lost his brother’s protective aid, someone was found who took care of him. In his memoirs, “Do Not Raise Your Hand Against the Boy” Rav Yisroel Meir Lau described his Russian rescuer, Feodor and the help he gave him. Despite the danger, Feodor would steal potatoes, light a fire and cook them for the little boy. He took other measures to make sure that the child would be able to survive. He knitted ear warmers to protect him from the freezing cold. “Feodor, the Russian, looked after me in the daily life like a father would for a son. His concern and feeling of responsibility gave me a sense of security …” On April 11, 1945, the day the U.S. army reached the camp – a day Rav Lau described as his rebirth – Feodor held him close to him and sheltered him with his body.

Feodor Mikhailchenko
Feodor Mikhailchenko

After liberation the two parted, and Rav Yisroel was never to see Feodor again.. Soon after the end of the war, in the summer of 1945, Rav Yisroel and Naftali came to Eretz Israel. He studied in various yeshivos and became a rov. Between the years 1999-2003 rav Lau served as the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, returning afterwards to his position of Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yaffo. In November 2008 he was appointed chairman of the Yad Vashem Council.

Rav Lau never forgot his rescuer. He only knew his first name and that he was originally from Rostov, but when rav Lau first visited the Soviet Union, he asked the Secretary-General of the Communist party to help him locate the man. His interlocutor promised to put an ad in Izvestia, a leading Soviet newspaper. But no one came forward.

Only 63 years after the events, in the course of doing research on Buchenwald, Kenneth Waltzer, an American researcher from Michigan State University, managed to identify Rav Lau’s rescuer as Feodor Mikhailchenko. By that time Feodor had already passed away, but his daughters were found.

In August 2008 the Department of the Righteous contacted Yulia Selutina, Mikhailchenko’s daughter. She said that her father did tell his family about the children in his barrack in Buchenwald, and about one small Polish child in particular. After the war he even tried to find him, but in vain. Feodor Mikhailchenko died in 1993 at the age of 66.

Fyodor Michajlitschenko will be recognized this week as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations.” The honor, awarded by the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial project, will be given to Michajlitschenko’s daughters.

The “Righteous Among the Nations” award honors Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

The ceremony honoring Fyodor Michajlitschenko will take place on Tuesday. His daughters Yulia and Yelena are expected to fly in to Israel to attend the event.

{Yair Alpert-Matzav.com Israel}


  1. Until someone shows otherwise, I am going to assume that the whole ‘chasidei umos haolam’ title being given to ovdei avodah zara and the like, who saved yidden, is a baseless tzionishe creation ex nihilo, since as far as I could recall, the halacha is that a chasid of the umos haolam is one who keeps the sheva mitzvos bekavanah – if there is an exception to this that does not come from yad vasehm, I’d like to know about it.

  2. That may be true, however, you are missing the point. Even if those gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews may not be “chasidei umos haolam” other than at Yad Vashem and it would be preferable to give them another title, they deserve the hakoras hatov of the Jewish people and certainly of those whom they rescued. It is a kiddush Hashem to show appreciation for their deeds and a chillul Hashem to show ingratitude. There are other ways of showing appreciation but do you many people doing it? No one is asking you to send a donatation to Yad Vashem. It is easy to knock something imperfect, but don’t do it when you don’t have something better to offer.

  3. MominJ-m, you are 100% rightd and your post shows to everyone that you are a mensch. How many eino-Yehudim saved Jews? Few, very few. Matis, how many American Jews were willing to sign affidavits to save Jews? Do you know Romania was selling Jews for $50 a neshama? I have a copy of the page from New York Times advertising that the shkatzim were selling 70,000 Yiddishe neshamos. That comes out $3,500,000 for all of them. A lot of money back then, but you save 70,000 Yiddishe neshamos. You save one neshama, you saved an entire world. How many Americans did step up to the plate? So, if an eino-Yehudi does step up to the plate and saves a Yid, that’s something to celebrate and makir tov. That’s the menshlich thing to do. Did you learn that in Shaar HaEmmes in Orchos Tzadikim? And whom did this Ukrainian man save? Yisroel Meir Lau, the descendent of a chain of 36 rabbanim from Poland, who went to learn in the yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel and became a rav and talmid chacham of note. So don’t give us your politically correct Zioni Shmioni spiel. It doesn’t hold water.

  4. Of course you need to show hakaras hatov to goyim – i never said anything to the contrary. It does bother me though that torah ideas are contorted in that manner – I am not going to say for certain, but do you think something done in the name of avodah zara is a good thing? many goyim(where do you get this eino-yehudim stuff from?) saved jews only to convert them, putting them in christian orphanages and convincing them to believe in yushke. Does that qualify as something to be makir tov too? Maybe they’re also ‘chasidei umos haolam’?

    This is not ‘political correctness’, this is about sheker and emes. Of course we owe hakaras hatov to the goyim(few may they have been, unsurprisingly) who saved yidden – however that title is simply not emes and does not apply to them, it is a distortion of torah, and I cannot tolerate that. Rav Lau has not said that the title is appropriate, neither has(as far as I know) anyone significant.

    It’s sort of like how Rav Avigdor Miller used to put out a flag on the 4th of july – he said to have hakaras hatov to america. That however did not stop him from destroying all sorts of american ideology in his seforim, because he was an ish emes. It doesnt matter what else someone does – emes is emes, and sheker is sheker. Saving a Jewish life, especially if under the authority of an avodah zara, does not make one a chosid of the umos haolam. Such a person, even if not for the avodah zara, according to pashtus of the rambam is not a ben olam haba. Only if a goy keeps the sheva mitzvos bekavanah is he a ben olam haba.

  5. Matis, b’mechilah, you must see a therapist. No one mentioned conversion or monasteries in the posts above. No one tried to convert Rav Lau. The Ukrainian (he was born in Rostov on Don, so he’s a cosack)saved him out of his good heart. A groisse chidush, but true. And since you mentioned Rabbi Avigdor Miller, he said that if a communist (here comes your apikores) does you a favor, you are expected to thank him. If he saves your life, even more so. If you don’t thank him, you will end up not thanking your parents, after which you will not thank der Eibeshter. Learn to be a mensch. Derech eretz precedes Torah in time. By the time you learn you first Tosefos, you are supposed to be a mensch.