Beyond Yom HaShoah, son of survivors always a hero

Khodos organizes food, clothing and other necessities for more than 2,700 indigent Jews in Uzbekistan at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's office here, in Uzbekistan's capital city. His efforts make him a pillar of this former Soviet republic's embattled 15,000-member Jewish community.

Odds are that Khodos, the son of two Holocaust survivors, never should have been born.

"My father survived the Nazis because he doesn't look like me," Khodos says matter-of-factly. Then, laughing at himself, he adds, "Nobody could mistake me for a non-Jew — isn't it true?"

It is true.

With his round glasses, bushy gray-brown beard and mustache, fading corduroy shirt, ill-fitting charcoal gray slacks and beaten black loafers, Khodos looks like the stereotypical high school physics teacher — which he was. But today, the 41-year-old is a hero to many in his rapidly diminishing Jewish community.

During World War II, more than 1 million European Jews fled through Uzbekistan, thousands of miles from Hitler's armies. Some 200,000 remained after the Holocaust, joining tens of thousands of native Bukharan Jews, who had dwelled here since antiquity.

Today, the 10,000 Ashkenazi Jews still in Uzbekistan and thousands of Bukharans who protected them during World War II maintain a special appreciation for Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, which begins this year on Monday evening.

Many Bukharan Jews remember fondly the families they saved and comforted during the Holocaust and subsequently –though they are too modest to think of themselves as rescuers. Luba Davidov, wife of Raphael Davidov, the president of Bukhara's Jewish community, says, "We had Polish Jewish guests during World War II," giving no indication that her "guests" were in fact refugees.

Yet the Davidovs and other Bukharans are acutely aware of the Holocaust and grateful for Jewish survival. On Yom Hashoah, hundreds of Ashkenazi and Bukharan Jews join together, commemorating the tragedy in a corner of the ancient Bukharan Jewish neighborhood, the mahalla.

Both of Joseph Khodos' parents had harrowing stories of escaping the Nazis. They married in 1954. Joseph was born in 1961.

Though they and other Ashkenazi Jews were grateful to have survived the Holocaust and be in Uzbekistan, their life has hardly been easy since the war.

Joseph Khodos he spends his time contributing life's essentials to the Uzbek communities that gave him a chance at life. When he resigned from his teaching job in 1990 to help organize food parcels and other welfare programs for needy Jews in the area, Khodos' salary was $50 a month. He still sleeps in a small room at the back of the JDC's office and keeps kosher in the office's small kitchen.

Khodos volunteers as a prayer leader regularly in Tashkent and in Samarkand, where he goes most weekends to take care of two remarkable survivors — his elderly parents.