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Rewarding Ukraine Family Who Once Saved Two Jews

Ancestors of Ukrainian Righteous Gentiles Who Saved Jews From Nazis Are Saved From the War by Los Angeles Congregations
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May 25, 2023
Andrey and Marina Bogancha with their children Alex and Milana.

During WWII, two young Ukrainian Jewish girls managed to escape the Nazis before their family was marched to the forest and executed. They ended up seeking refuge with the non-Jewish family of a classmate, Nicolai Bogancha. The family hid the two girls, and helped them find their way to an orphanage, where they spent the rest of the war. The girls, Zhanna and Frina Arshanskaya, eventually emigrated to America, where they both became acclaimed musicians, and the Bogancha family’s courage was recognized by Yad Vashem when they were added to the list of  “Righteous Gentiles.”

The story would have ended there, except for the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022. The current generation of Bognachas — were forced to leave their home in Kharkiv. They settled in Austria. Alex Bogancha, an 18-year-old student was able to find a sponsor and came to Los Angeles. His parents — Andrei, an attorney, Marina, in a nice historical echo, a piano teacher— and his 14-year-old sister  remained in Austria.

Two Los Angeles congregations, Westwood’s Adat Shalom  and Culver City’s Temple Akiva, decided to join forces to aid Ukraine. Renalee Pflug and  Sandy Helman, two active members of the Adat Shalom community, decided the best way to help was to sponsor a family from Ukraine. “We did not know when we began how large a family we might meet,” Helman said. “Their history and age were not known, nor whether they had children or spoke English.”

Working with HIAS, a nonprofit that has aided refugees since the turn of the 20th century, the congregations heard about Alex and his family.  When they learned about the family’s history, it made their decision easier. “In the process,” Helman told the Journal, “we could help the family that helped Zhanna and Frina.”

When they learned about the family’s history, it made their decision easier. “In the process, we could help the family that helped Zhanna and Frina.”— Sandy Helman

Of course, the process is not that simple. There’s bureaucracy, and having to prepare the resources necessary to make the transition easier. “Rescuing people is not a one-way street,” Phlug added. “The family has to be happy with those who are sponsoring them …  It’s interesting that it works both ways.”

With the help of HIAS’ Welcome Circle, they have raised money, and local businesses have chipped in to help: Legacy Mattress provided some of the bedding and the Beverly Hills Bike shop donated a bicycle for the family’s use. But just after Passover, the congregations learned the Bogancha’s will arrive in Los Angeles on June 1st.

The story doesn’t end there. There must be housing ready for the Bogancha’s when they arrive. Rent is an issue; the apartment must be affordable. It also needs to be close to public transportation since the family will not have a car. “Settling in Culver City would place them near both synagogues so members could be helpful, ” Helman said. “ It would also be near their son and close to schooling for their daughter.” The biggest problem is that some apartment owners have a policy that tenants must see the property before moving in. Funds have been raised that should support the Boganchas for six months, giving them time to become self-sufficient.

“We had trepidation when we started this project,” Helman said. “Now we are excited. The parents are capable and willing to tackle the resort.  The project has a personal dimension for her. “I have my dad’s HIAS cards when he came here from Poland in 1923.”

Eighty years on from the Holocaust, nearly unbelievable ironies are bringing together Jews and a family of Christian rescuers for a second time.

One recent morning, Renalee Pflug and Sandra Helman, leaders from Adat Shalom, a Conservative synagogue on the near Westside, shared the latest true story.

The women are working with Michele Paley of Temple Akiba on this project with miraculous overtones.

Helman mentioned a recent front-page story in the Los Angeles Times about two Jewish sisters, Zhanna and Frina Arshansky. They were residents of Kharkiv, Ukraine, during World War II.

Needing protection from Nazi invaders, the non-Jewish grandparents of the present-day Bogancha family provided refuge for the girls. At the family’s own peril, they hid Zhanna and Frina as the Germans approached.

The girls became orphaned after their parents and grandparents harshly were taken away.

Talented pianists, the sisters survived the war, and began their lives anew

in the United States, Helman said.

They attended Julliard on scholarships, built full lives.

Meanwhile, the girls’ rescuers, the Boganchas, Prokofy and Yevdokia, remained in Kharkov. In 2008, they were formally recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Gentiles, Righteous Among the Nations.

After Russia invaded Ukraine a year and a half ago, members of Adat Shalom and Temple Akiba, a Reform synagogue in Culver City, joined forces with a goal of settling a needy Ukrainian refugee family.

“We did not know when we began how large a family we might meet,” Helman said. “Their history and age were not known, nor whether they had children or spoke English.”

Adat Shalom and Temple Akiba began working with HIAS. This historic international Jewish humanitarian organization founded in 1881 to help Jewish refugees, now aids non-Jews as well.

The Los Angeles activists heard about Alex Bogancha, an 18-year-old Ukrainian boy with a scholarship to Santa Monica College.

After the Russians broke into Ukraine in February 2022, Alex and his family fled their native Kharkov. Once they had settled in a small Austrian town, Alex was sponsored to the United States without his family.

He settled in Santa Monica and is attending classes at Santa Monica College.

His parents and 14-year-old sister still are still in Austria. They are scheduled to land in Los Angeles – and be reunited with Alex.

Still in shock at the remarkable irony they had happened upon, the joint committee of Adat Shalom and Temple Akiba chose to assist Alex’s “family.

“In the process,” said Helman, “we could help the family that helped Zhanna and Frina.

As plans moved forward, the committee expanded, jointly raising money, acquiring needed goods, learning about resources that will help the family once they arrive. Many Westsiders reached out to assist.

“Just after Passover,” said Helman, “we heard the great news that the family will arrive on June 1.”

Housing is now their main issue.

It needs to be affordable and near public transportation since the family will not have a car. We are reaching out to the community.

“There must be a place for this family,” Helman said. “Settling in Culver City would place them near both synagogues so members could be helpful. They also would be near their son and close to schooling for the daughter.”

Volunteers have raised funds they believe will support the Boganchas for six months with the hope that they will be self-sufficient in that time.

Andrey Bogancha is an attorney. His wife Marina is a piano teacher.

Among hometown supporters of this project, Legacy Mattress on Overland Avenue has provided a portion of bedding, and the Beverly Hills Bike Shop will deliver a bicycle for Andrey’s use.

“We had trepidation when we began this project,” Helman said. “Now we are excited. The parents are capable and willing to tackle the rest. We still need the housing piece of this puzzle to make it a reality.”

Renalee Pflug, executive director of Adat Shalom, explained to the Journal how this latter day miracle was born.

With the world almost surrounded by warring nations, activists were interested in adopting a war-threatened family.

“That was a year and a half ago,” Plug said, “and at that time the focus was on what had been happening in Afghanistan. That was the motivation for our committee to start thinking about how can we help.

“Then the Ukrainian situation exploded, and we shifted to saying ‘let’s help a family from Ukraine.’”

Helping rescue the Bogancha family evolved from learning about Alex being at Santa Monica College while his parents and sister were thousands of miles away.

Rescuing persons is not a one-way street. Pflug said that “the family has to be happy with those who are sponsoring them. Interesting that it works both ways.”

Helman’s interest in this project is personal.

“I have my dad’s HIAS cards when he came here from Poland in 1923.”  She said Irving Winkelman arrived “just before our immigration laws became much narrower in 1924.”

As for the Bogancha project, “we are working with HIAS in their Welcome Circle program, a small group that that becomes a core group, three each from Adat Shalom and Temple Akiba,” Helman said.

As the days narrow for the Boganchas’ arrival, finding housing easily is the thorniest challenge.

A nagging challenge, for Pflug, Helman and the cast of volunteers is that some apartment owners have a policy that the tenants must first see the property.

What do you do when they are not yet in this country?

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