Stepan and Agafya Mozol were a pious Baptist couple who lived in the sleepy town of Chotomla, Poland (now Belarus.) There were many Jews living in the area until the Germans invaded in 1939 and immediately forced the Jews into a squalid ghetto. Living in the overcrowded slum was brutal, and residents suffered from hunger and sickness. Things got much worse in 1941 with the arrrival of the Einsatzgruppen, also called “mobile killing units.” These vicious Nazis began by rounding up 11,000 Jewish men in the ghetto and massacring them. The mass killings continued and many thousands of Jewish victims, from babies to the elderly, were dumped in mass graves.
A small group of Jewish doctors and nurses were spared to run the local hospital. Dr. Hersh Rotter was one of the medical professionals who were allowed to live, but he knew his family’s days were numbered and he desperately tried to find a way to escape the ghetto. A local Polish doctor connected them with Wladyslaw Kijowski, a forester, who made a nighttime visit to the ghetto and whisked the Rotter family – Hersh, his wife Ewa, and their three-year-old son Aleksander – away in his horse-drawn carriage. He brought them to the humble home of his old friends the Mozols. Wladyslaw knew that the Mozols’ good nature and Christian faith would not allow them to turn away the frightened Jewish family.
Indeed, the Mozols welcomed the Jewish strangers into their home and provided for all their needs while hiding them from the Nazis. Without children of their own, Stepan and Agafya doted on young Aleksander. The Mozols’ actions were particularly brave as it was known that the Nazis were searching for the escaped physician. Despite the Mozols’ own financial hardship, they provided the Rotter family with food and everything else necessary for survival.
As the Nazis went door to door looking for the escaped Jews, it became too dangerous to remain at the Mozol home, and in 1943 the Rotters moved to the forest, where they joined a group of partisans and stayed there until the area was liberated by the Russians in 1944.
After the war, Hersh and Ewa Rotter moved to America, where they changed their names to Henry and Eva Reed. For the rest of their lives, they maintained a close correspondence with the kind Polish couple who saved their lives.
Due to the testimony of the Rotter/Reeds, Israeli Holocaust Memorial Yad Vashem honored them as Righteous Among the Nations in 1979.
For hiding a Jewish doctor and his family from the Nazis, we honor Stepan and Agafya Mozol as this week’s Thursday Heroes.
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