It is undeniable that the role of Ukraine in the Holocaust was shameful. Almost a million Jews were killed by Ukrainian Nazi collaborators, most of them shot and dumped into mass graves, many while still alive. Because of this ugly history, and at a time when the Ukraine itself is under threat, it is crucial to remember those Ukrainians who did the right thing, even at great risk to themselves.
Alexei Glagolev was a Ukrainian Orthodox priest who practiced his Christian faith despite severe persecution from the Soviet communists. Together with his wife Tatiana and their children, Alexei hid Jews during World War II, a heroic act that almost cost the Glagolevs their own lives.
Born in Kiev in 1901, Alexei was raised in a devout Eastern Orthodox home. His father Alexander was a priest and professor at Kiev Theological Academy and known to be an ally to Jews at a time of rampant antisemitism. Alexei, a stand-out student in high school, enrolled in the Theological Academy in 1919, and studied there until 1923, even after it was shut down by the Bolsheviks and the students had to study in secret. Alexei married Tatiana Bulashevich, the daughter of a sugar plant owner, in 1926. They had three children, Magdalina, Nikolei and Maria.
In 1932 the Glagolevs’ world was rocked when Alexei was arrested by the communists for “anti-revolutionary acts.” He was freed after a week in custody, but was designated a “cult leader” and deprived of civil liberties. With his professional options severely curtailed due to his status as leader of a cult (the Soviets considered all religions to be cults), he labored as a construction worker and security guard. From 1936 to 1940 he studied Physics and Mathematics at the Kiev Pedagogy Institute, while secretly running an underground church. After the war in Eastern Europe began, Alexei was ordained as a priest and served in the Pokrov Church in Kiev.
In October, 1941, Alexei’s sister-in-law asked him to help her brother’s Jewish wife, Izabella Mirkina, who was in imminent danger of being murdered by the Nazis. Without hesitation, Alexei and Tatiana determined to do whatever they could to help persecuted Jews, despite caring for their own three children in difficult wartime conditions. Tatiana gave Izabella her own identity card and baptism certificate. In his memoirs, Father Alexei wrote, “My wife almost paid with her own life for her reckless action. The Gestapo was going from flat to flat asking for papers, and when they found out that Tatiana didn’t have a passport, they were going to arrest her. Very few people returned to their homes after such arrests. We begged and managed to persuade them to leave her alone after a few witnesses confirmed her identity.”
Even with Tatiana’s papers Izabella was unable to escape and returned to the Glagolevs in desperate need of a place to hide. Alexei later said, “Tormented, we searched for a way to save her. What kind of Christians would we be if we refused this poor woman, who was reaching out to us and pleading for help?” The Glagolevs welcomed Izabella and her daughter Irina into their own modest home. When other desperate Jews approached for help, Alexei gave them fake baptism certificates and hid them in his church, even though hiding Jews was a capital crime punishable by execution. The Glagolev children also helped care for the Jews and keep them safe and fed.
In 1943 Alexei moved out of his home and into the hospital at Pokrov Monastery, where he lived beside the Jews he was helping. This was very risky because the Germans had forbidden Ukrainians to live in that part of Kiev. He and his son Nikolei were arrested in fall of that year and deported to Germany, where Alexei was brutally beaten by the Nazis. Somehow they managed to escape and returned to Ukraine after the liberation from Germany in 1944. In 1945, Alexei wrote a letter to Nikita Khrushchev, Secretary of the Ukraine, about the Jews he had saved.
Alexei continued working as a priest in the Pokrov church until it closed in 1960. He worked in several other churches despite increasing ill health caused by his brutal treatment while imprisoned by the Nazis. Alexei died in 1972. Journalist Sergei Kokurin wrote in an article about Alexei, “It is hard to understand to an average man the determination with which Glagolev went against the tide. In 1936 this fragile-looking intellectual publicly carried the cross taken off the Church of Nikola the Kind, and despite threats from the communists kept it in his flat. He was the only priest in Kiev who refused in April 1942 to hold a church service to celebrate Hitler’s birthday.”
Alexei, Tatiana and their children were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations by Israeli Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem in 1991. In January 2002, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Alexei Glagolev’s birth, a memorial plaque to him and his brave father Alexander was erected on the wall of the National University of Kiev.
For their heroic actions saving Jews, and for practicing their faith in defiance of Soviet persecution, we honor the Glagolev family as this week’s Thursday Heroes.
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