Southern California family of Jewish Holocaust survivors helps Ukrainian refugees find a new life in Santa Monica

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (KABC) — The spirit of love closed Thursday for two families torn apart by war – eight decades apart.

Her story begins with the rescue of two Jewish sisters during the Holocaust. Fast forward to the present day and her offspring are now reciprocating that kindness.

Language and life experience crossed in a Santa Monica home and now revolves around 18-year-old Alex Bogancha, who is currently making a home in Southern California despite being 6,000 miles away.

“So many cultures, so many people, so many opportunities, yes, it’s just a very diverse city,” says Bogancha, who adds that the delicious Mexican food isn’t a bad perk.

The teenager traveled alone from Ukraine to the open arms – and guest house – of Michael Solomon in January. They don’t know each other well, but get there quickly.

ALSO READ | Ukrainian refugee family finds shelter and safety in Santa Monica family home

“I took him to a Seder last night and it’s hard to explain to him what eating at the Seder means because it’s not about having tons of great Jewish food,” Solomon said.

History lessons are not lost on Bogancha – his family’s own history is woven into it.

To understand it you have to go back a few generations and you can do that in a book called Hiding in the Spotlight by author Greg Dawson.

“This book completely changed my life,” said Marina Orlovetsky, who helped bring Bogancha to America. “When I first read the book, I thought how [is it] It’s possible that I’ve lived in Kharkiv all my life and never knew what happened in Drobitsky Yar.”

Orlovetsky said she read the book in one go. It explains the life of Zhanna Dawson, who was 14 when Nazi soldiers ordered her and her family to march into a ravine. Her father begged and bribed for his daughter’s freedom. Sixteen thousand people, including Zhanna’s parents, were eventually executed.

But Zhanna escaped and went through the winter, eventually finding warmth in the home of a family who protected her and helped her find her way.

She found a way through music and life and one day in America. Orlovetsky was so moved by her story that she called her after reading it.

“I was in the car for three hours,” she said. “I couldn’t drive and we talked and talked and talked.”

Through these conversations, she found the boganchas that brought Zhanna to safety more than 80 years ago.

When the war broke out in Ukraine a year ago, things came full circle.

“How risky would it have been in 1941 to help two Jewish girls escape and hide them in your house?” said Orlovetsky. “It was more than helping today and I was like, you know what? We have to help. We have to help this family because now it is our turn.”

Orlovetsky organized Bogancha’s trip to the United States, and it was long. When he finally arrived, he was greeted by a group of strangers who knew his name.

“It was like a relative you’ve never met, but you know you have relatives somewhere else that you’ve never met,” Bogancha said. “She felt like family.”

Orlovetsky felt the same way.

“Knowing that someone in this world is suffering less gives you, should I say, a desire to move on because, you know, kindness will prevail and kindness will win,” she said.

Zhanna lived to be 95 years old, but died days before Bogancha’s arrival. Greg Dawson, who happens to be her son, wrote her story, which had an almost perfect ending.

“If I could wish for anything, it would have been that she met him and thanked the Bogancha family again,” the author said.

The Bogancha family plans to arrive in America soon and of course they are greeted with an extended family reunion.

“He just turned out to be an amazing kid. That’s what I would want for a son,” Solomon said of Bogancha.

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