You probably have never heard of it before but this story about a Ukrainian baptist family in World War II should thrill your soul if you love Jesus. I suspect it also might start to make the rounds as a children’s sermon at Christmas time in churches that have them as a part of their service. It is because of a Savior who was born in an obscure place, wrapped in swaddling cloths and layed in a manger that such families exist in the world.
May all of us who follow the new-born King follow their example. This article comes from THE KAIROS JOURNAL. It appears unedited below.
A Room Under the Manger—Vasili Dzhyvulski
(1942 – 1944)
Every night, 18-year-old Michael Ehrlich knocked on the window of a Ukrainian farmhouse, and Vasili Dzhyvulski let him in for a meal. Of course, the whole affair occurred under the cover of darkness and extremely quietly, for Ehrlich was a Jew, and the year was 1942. The Dzhyvulski family, including Vasili’s wife, Marina, and four children living at home, kept watch through the windows when their visitor stopped by. They knew that Germans would shoot them and burn their home if they discovered a Jew in the house, but for them, the risk was worth it. These Baptists viewed saving Jews as a religious duty.1
A year earlier, Germans had entered the area and immediately, with the help of local Ukrainians, began murdering Jews, looting their property, and conscripting the young for hard labor in camps. Ehrlich himself fled when he saw Ukrainian police shoot a group of Jews driven from the Carpatho-Russia area. From that moment until he met Dzhyvulski, he subsisted on scavenged food in the forest and lived a Robinson Crusoe-type life in secret, makeshift shelters along a riverbank.2
So welcoming were the Dzhyvulskis that Ehrlich asked permission to build a bunker under their cattle stalls. They agreed, and for two months the two men worked at night, digging and secretly discarding the dirt into a stream.3 The finished product consisted of two sections, one with beds built into the wall and another for personal hygiene. A secret entrance under a feeding trough allowed Dzhyvulski to slip food into the bunker as he fed his cows.4
Just as they were completing the bunker, word came that the Germans were redoubling their effort to empty the area of all Jews. So Ehrlich asked permission to bring family and friends to the hideout. Once again the Dzhyvulskis consented, and eventually the number of hidden Jews swelled to 13. In addition, the family agreed to keep an 18-month-old baby in the house, passing her off as their granddaughter. They fed their guests whatever they could spare and shopped for groceries in distant locations to avoid notice by locals. Daily, the Jewish fugitives received soup, 100 grams of bread, and water. Periodically, the Dzhyvulskis removed the hidden Jews two at a time to let them bathe in a tub. Vasili even assumed the unpleasant task of removing buckets of human waste from the bunker.5
To ease crowded conditions, Ehrlich returned to life in the woods and visited the shelter once or twice each week. But a trip to check on his father turned disastrous. SS officials seized him and led him along with other Jews to the edge of a mass grave. When they opened fire, Ehrlich jumped into the grave and pretended to be dead. For hours he lay among the corpses and screaming wounded, becoming drenched with blood. When he managed to crawl out and make it back to the Dzhyvulski farm, Vasili washed his clothes, gave him a bath, and found him some old clothes.6 Through it all, the Dzhyvulskis were resolved to either live or die together with the Jews.7 The family continued in that fashion for two years until the area’s liberation in July 1944.
Though carried out in secrecy, the world finally recognized Vasili and Marina Dzhyvulski’s work. In 1974, the nation of Israel granted them the Yad Vashem Award to Righteous Gentiles. Though their citation did not say so, these Ukrainian heroes had simply chosen to “take up their cross daily” to the glory of their Savior. In the darkest of days, they shone with God’s grace.
1 Mordecai Paldiel, The Righteous among the Nations: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 109-110.
2 Ibid., 110.
4 Ibid., 111.
6 Ibid., 111-112.
7 Ibid., 112.