Three Czechs recognised as Righteous Among Nations

Anna Azari, Alena Drmolová and Rostislav Vrobel

Three Czechs who risked their lives to save nine members of a Jewish family from the Holocaust have been recognised in memoriam as Righteous Among the Nations, the highest Israeli tribute to Gentiles who saved the lives of Jews during the Second World War. On Wednesday their relatives received the award from the Israeli ambassador to Prague.

The Righteous Among the Nations title has been awarded by the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem since 1963. To date some 30,000 people around the world have received the award.

Three new names were added to the list this Wednesday, when the Israeli Embassy in Prague officially presented the title in memoriam to the Čepek family.

Volhynian Czechs | Photo: Memory of the Nation

Bohuslav, Olga and Evženie Čepek were Volhynia Czechs, living on the territory of today’s Ukraine.

During the Second World War, they provided shelter to the Gerstein family, hiding them at their farm in Volhynia for 10 long months, risking not only their lives, but also the lives of their children, says the spokeswoman for the Israeli Embassy, Petra Mohylová:

“They lived in a village called České Ozerany in Volhynia, they had a farm there. The father’s name was Bohuslav and the mother was called Olga, and they had three daughters and a son.

“With the onset of the Second World War, or rather after the Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union and the front swept through the area several times, their situation got dire.”

Photo: Kateřina Šulová,  ČTK

It was during that time, in the spring of 1943, when a group of nine Jewish people appeared on their doorstep all of a sudden, begging the Čepek family to provide a shelter, says Ms. Mohylová:  ¨

“Of course, this was already at a time when any help to the Jews meant instant death for anyone who provided it. Nevertheless, Mr. Čepek did not shy away from this task. Together with another farmer from the Czech village, they provided shelter for them. This way, they saved all the nine people, who asked them for help.”

Unlike many other similar stories, this one has a happy ending. All the nine members of the Gerstein family survived the Holocaust, and, shortly after the war, left Czechoslovakia for Canada, Ms. Mohylová said just ahead of the ceremony:

“The story has another powerful twist. This time, their descendants have returned to the Czech Republic to meet the relatives of their ancestors' rescuers. It will be the very first time when all of them meet at once, at the residence of the Israeli Ambassador Anna Azari.”

Together with the members of the Čepek family, a total of 125 people from Czechoslovakia and Czechia have received the Righteous Among the Nations tribute to date.

Along with a medal and a certificate of honour, their name will be added to those on the Wall of Honour in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.