Updated: Jan 20, 2022
grew up in a cottage near Minsk in the village of Drozdy with her sister, Anya, and her nanny, Matryona Ivanovna Adamovich. Her mother, Riva Solomonovna Hodakova, was a medical doctor, and was at the front from the first days of war. Her dad, Naum L.Finkelstein, brought them to the town of Orsha because he had to appear before the draft board. Unfortunately, he was killed in autumn 1941 in the battles near Mogilev.
Since Zoya was only two at the time, she could not remember everything from the war. Everything she knew she learned from her nanny, Matryona. Matryona realized that living in Nazi occupied Orsha was impossible so she led the children on foot (but also on horse carts if strangers took pity on them) to somewhere safer. When they reached the village of Gorbatsevich, they were taken in by Ivan and Agatha Vasilchonok. The Vasilchonoks opened their home to Zoya and her sister and nanny and received nothing in reward as they had left with nothing. What was truly remarkable about the situation is that the Vasilchonoks risked their lives to protect them. The Nazis would destroy not only Jews but also those who dared to shelter them or who simply did not report people suspected of being Jews to the Nazis.
Gorbatsevich villagers soon realized that Zoya and Anya were Jews and reported them to the German commandant. The village’s head man, Mr. Pantiukh, alerted the Vasilchonoks that German policemen were coming with a search warrant. Zoya, Anya, and Matryona escaped into the woods. The next time they were alerted, they hid in the cellar under the potatoes. If they were discovered, their hosts would be killed along with them.
Ivan and Agatha’s daughter, Anna, brought Zoya’s sister, Anya, to the partisans. After Anya left, Zoya was baptized in the Orthodox Church and was passed off as her nanny Matryona’s daughter. They found out about a year later that Anya died while carrying out partisan duties.
After the liberation of Byelorussia, Zoya’s mother, who survived the war and finished it in Berlin, found them with help from Matryona sister, Anna Ivanovna, who lived in the village of Glisnovka (later renamed Borki, Polotsk District, Vitebsk Region). In 1945 Zoya’s mother was demobilized and came for them, and they all returned to Minsk. Later, Zoya’s mother remarried and Zoya had a new half-sister, Svetlana, who was born in 1947. When Zoya got married, Matryona moved in with her, and helped to raise her daughter, Katya. Until her death, Matryona Ivanovna was an equal member of Zoya’s family and the most beloved and cherished one.
Matryona Ivanovna Adamovich died on August 6, 1986, at age ninety-three. She was posthumously awarded the title “Righteous Among the Nations.” A commemorative plaque with her name is installed in the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.
All information from the book Never Heard Never Forget and interviews with survivors.