Aleksander Kramarovskiy was a Russian math teacher whose strong bond with a Jewish student led him to change the course of his life to save her from the Nazis.

Aleksander taught math at a large orphanage near Moscow. Riva Reznikova was the only Jewish child there, and Aleksander’s top student. Riva was mercilessly bullied by the other kids for being Jewish, and Aleksander became her mentor and defender. 

Riva’s mother had died when she was five, and she was shuttled between relatives for a year before being sent to the orphanage. Aleksander genuinely cared about the girl, and wanted to adopt her, but his wife refused to even consider it.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, everyone in the orphanage was evacuated to a large farm near the Don River, where they were forced to work in the fields, filling in for all the men who’d been drafted to fight. Riva was known by everybody in the orphanage to be Jewish, and Aleksander didn’t think she was safe. Together they escaped from the farm. Aleksander gave Riva a large wooden cross to wear around her neck, and told everybody she was his daughter Margarita. 

They wandered around Russia, looking for a safe haven, until 1942, when they were captured by the Nazis and sent to a German labor camp, where they remained until liberation in 1945.

After the war, Jewish soldiers who’d volunteered with the British Army, traveled throughout Europe looking for Jewish survivors to bring to Israel. They found Riva and Aleksander, who were waiting to be sent back to the Soviet Union. Riva didn’t want to go to Israel, but Aleksander was certain she’d have a better life there than in the USSR. But Riva refused to leave without her “father.”

Putting Riva’s safety and happiness above all else, Aleksander moved to Israel with Riva in 1946. They made a new life together as father and daughter. When Riva got married in 1961, Aleksander lived with her and her growing family. He passed away in 1964.

For giving up everything to save a Jewish girl, we honor Aleksander Kramarovskiy as this week’s Thursday Hero.