Born in the Ukrainian town of Kalynew, Stasia says she spent the war years motivated primarily by two emotions: love and fear. Her non-Jewish family hid her best friend, Helen Bittner, in the attic of their house when the Germans occupied the region. Stasia and her sister lived a ‘normal’ life, going to school and playing with friends, but when at home they shared in the responsibility of caring for their secret guest. Always the family lived in fear of discovery. In 1944, as the front line of battle approached their village, the anti-Communist Zyznomyrskys fled to Poland. Helen was left behind with falsified documents identifying her as the niece of Stasia’s father. After the war, under the War Orphans Relief Act, Stasia was able to come to the United States. In 1991 Stasia found Helen again. Her parents and brother had died in the Holocaust, but Helen had married and come to the United States via Israel. She now lives in Florida and has a family of her own.
The Ukraine, now an independent republic, was one of the fifteen Soviet Republics within the USSR and was part of Russia since ancient times. The Ukrainians are, however, a distinct people with their own language and have not always been friendly toward Moscow. Hitler’s invasion of the USSR in 1941 drove directly across this region, aiming for the oil fields near the Caspian Sea and for industrial centers like Stalingrad. Soviet resistance was fierce, all the more so because many Ukrainians sympathized with the Nazis and might have tried to help the invaders. Some of the bloodiest and most destructive battles of World War II were fought in Stasia’s ‘back yard.’ Nine hundred thousand Ukrainian Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust.