Ukrainian refugees gather for the Passover Seder near the site of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Nearly eight decades after Polish Jews trapped in the Warsaw ghetto rose up against their German occupiers, a group of Ukrainian refugees will gather near the holy site on Friday to celebrate Passover.

A Ukrainian-American Jew from Holocaust survivors who left Ukraine for Israel as a child will participate in the entertainment of the traditional Seder meal in Warsaw. She is in Poland to help Ukrainian refugees who fled their homeland because of the Russian invasion.

“The fact that we are here, that we have been able to help as many people as we have, is frankly breathtaking,” said Ana Sazonov, 34, who heads the Jewish Federation of Columbia, South Carolina.

The Jewish Federations of North America, which has raised $50 million to help Ukraine, will also hold the Passover Seder on Friday in other major European cities that have taken in Ukrainian refugees, including Budapest, Hungary.

But there will be a side of solemn symbolism at the Warsaw Seder, where a third of the population was Jewish before the Germans wiped them out in the Holocaust.

“I expect there will be around 200 of us, refugees, aid workers and others,” Sazonov said of the Seder, which is hosted by the Jewish Agency for Israel in partnership with the UJA Federation of New York. “And we will all celebrate Freedom Day.”

Volunteers with the Jewish Federations of North America on the Polish-Ukrainian border.Courtesy of Jewish Federations of North America

The ghetto uprising erupted on the eve of Passover in 1943 when hundreds of Jewish fighters, armed with weapons supplied by the Polish resistance, clashed with the German army. And just like the war in Ukraine, it was a David versus Goliath fight.

But while the revolt of the outgunned Jews of Warsaw was finally crushed, the Ukrainians have so far managed to thwart the invaders.

“It’s still a very dangerous situation in Ukraine,” Sazonov said in a phone interview.

For weeks, Sazonov worked with other Jewish Federation aid workers on the Polish border to help Ukrainians fleeing their homeland.

While they were able to help thousands of Jewish refugees get safely to Israel and other destinations in Europe, Sazonov said, they did not limit their assistance to Jewish Ukrainians.

“I believe in the concept of Tikkun olam, which means taking care of everyone, including Jews,” Sazonov said. “I believe it is our obligation, our duty to the world.”

Sazonov knows what it is to be uprooted. She is from Berezne, a small town in western Ukraine.

The fact that she is even alive is largely due to her non-Jewish great-grandfather, who saved his Jewish wife and children from the Nazis by putting them on a train to Russia before the advance of the Nazis. German army during World War II.

“That’s what saved them,” she says. “If he hadn’t, they probably would have been killed along with the other Jews.”

There were also Jewish rescuers on the mother’s side of the family, Sazonov said.

“On my mother’s side of the family, both of her grandparents saved many Jews,” she said. “My great-grandfather smuggled them into the woods to join the partisans. And my great-grandmother hid her neighbor in her cellar for a long time. All that was in Berezne.

Sazonov said her Jewish heritage was kept largely secret when she was growing up and she and her parents moved to Israel in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“In Israel, that’s when I really discovered and embraced my Jewish identity,” she said.

Sazonov moved to the United States five years ago, but has maintained ties with family and friends still in Ukraine. She said her parents were visiting friends in Ukraine a few weeks before the Russian invasion.

“When the war broke out, I dropped everything and came here,” she said. “I felt compelled to help.”

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