Ashkhen Agopyan

My IWSG post, in which I discover someone else is writing a WIP with my same premise, is here.


My theme for A to Z this year is heroes of the Shoah. (I personally prefer the Hebrew word instead of the English word Holocaust. I’ll use the English word if I know someone won’t understand the Hebrew word, but I just think Shoah sounds softer, less ugly, more historically evocative.) Twenty-two have been honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations; one was a hero who hasn’t received that highest honor; and three were Jewish women who did all they could to help people and save lives before they were murdered.

Since I’m a passionate Armenophile, and feel a deep kinship to the Armenian people, who better to start with than an Armenian?

Ashkhen Agopyan (1907–1986) lived at 41 Serova Street, Odesa (that’s the proper Ukrainian spelling, btw) with her husband Parunak and their two daughters, Tsaggui and Romela. Some of their neighbors in this apartment were the Rabinovich family, consisting of parents Yakov and Olga, and children Dina and Mariya (Manya). When war came to the Soviet Union, both Parunak and Yakov were forcibly conscripted.

The Nazis occupied Odesa on 16 October 1941; two months later, Olga and her daughters were forced to move to the ghetto in Slobodka. Dina was only three years old, and Manya was just a few months old. Ashkhen, together with other neighbors, helped them by smuggling food, diapers, blankets, and money into the ghetto.

41 Serova Street, Copyright Yuriy Kvach

Odesa was under occupation by the Romanians by this point, and Olga and her daughters were in one of the groups being deported to Transnistria on foot. Miraculously, Olga was able to escape and go home. Another neighboring family, the Biliches, helped to hide them in the coal cellar. Until Odesa’s liberation on 10 April 1944, the Biliches and Agopyans helped this little family to survive. Olga and her daughters often stayed in Ashkhen’s apartment to avoid the nighttime searches, rats, and oppressive cold and damp.

Ashkhen’s 13-year-old daughter Tsaggui also helped by bringing warm clothes and food, and would sneak Dina and Manya into the apartment. At this time, Ashkhen and Tsaggui were also helping another hidden woman, Polina Shamis.

Yakov Rabinovich survived the war and came home to Odesa, but sadly, Parunak was killed in action. The Biliches disappeared before the city’s liberation, and haven’t been able to be traced. Ashkhen was honored as Righteous Among the Nations on 17 January 2010.

By an amazing coincidence, Dina grew up to marry an Armenian with the surname Agopian, though he’s not related to the Agopyans.

More stories of Armenian rescuers


17 comments on “Ashkhen Agopyan

  1. Great post – very poignant too. Great start to the challenge, very much looking forward to your next post. (Oh, and btw I’m a former Duranie so am intrigued by your WIP)


  2. Tarkabarka says:

    Wow! Great story, and I am looking forward to reading more! I read an Armenian epic for my A to Z challenge. It was fascinating.

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
    MopDog – 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary


  3. Natalie K. says:

    ‘Odesa’ may be the proper Ukrainian spelling, but pretty much everyone who lives there speaks Russian and spells it in a way that transliterates to ‘Odessa.’ 😉

    Great post—this is an interesting bit of history!


  4. nancygideon says:

    History ROCKS! Thanks for sharing.


  5. What a great start to the Challenge! We rarely get to hear the stories of the everyday people in wars. Thank you for sharing and good luck.


  6. Shalzzz says:

    I’m going to learn so much from here! These are new to me! What a way to start off AtoZ! Great post. 🙂 *Shalini @TaleofTwoTomatoes*


  7. Miriam says:

    Thank you for this. Looking forward to learning more from you.
    Miriam (A-to-Zing on writing historical fiction)


  8. mel says:

    Just to encourage you a little, even if other people have the same idea as your WIP, the way your story comes out will be uniquely yours! And going by what I’m reading so far, I’m sure it’ll be awesome 🙂


  9. The story of a very brave person. Smuggling clothes and food, helping others – all actions that could have cost the ultimate price. I do wonder sometimes if I would ever be that selfless – I don’t think any of us know until we are faced with that type of situation.
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles
    Wittegen Press


  10. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live under such oppression and to be risking your life just by helping your fellow humans. Thank you for sharing about Ashkhen Agopyan.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)


  11. I’m with Natasha on this one. I can’t even imagine. What a beautiful post!

    Good luck with the 2015 A to Z Challenge!
    A to Z Co-Host S. L. Hennessy


  12. I thought there would be some interesting and informative posts on the Challenge – this one is going to be hard to beat. Thanks for sharing – I’m A-Z Blogger number 596 Leaning On The Gate – and having great fun so far!


  13. Ohh.. This is going to make me sad. But also so inspired. The folks who helped out during WWII.. I just have so much admiration for them. Great theme.
    ~AJ Lauer
    an A-Z Cohost
    @ayjaylauer on Twitter


  14. cheriereich says:

    I hadn’t heard the word Shoah used for Holocaust. I like that word. Nice learning about Ashkhen Agopyan.


  15. Welcome to the A to Z Challenge, and thanks for this educational post!


  16. the little princess says:

    That’s what I call a share…I’m reading about these heroes here and you are reading about our heroes on mine!! isn’t that amazing! nice learning about Ashkhen Agopyan!


  17. ahtdoucette says:

    A great idea for the A-Z challenge. Bittersweet and full of meaning.


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