At a garden in Haifa dedicated to the Righteous Among the Nations, there is a stone dedicated to the memory of Elisabetha Nicopoi Strul of Romania. “She warned Jewish acquaintances of an impending pogrom in the city, hid more than 15 of them and provided all their basic needs. When they [the Jews] were taken labor camps, she brought them food and other supplies, time and again. Despite being caught, detained for a number of days, and severely beaten, she continued her mission,” the inscription on the stone reads.
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Elisabetha Nicopoi lived with her family in Iasi in Romania and worked at a textile factory. Many of her work colleagues and some of her neighbors were Jews. On June 29, 1941, after hearing from her Christian neighbors about a plan to attack the Jews, she rushed to the home of Marcus Strul, one of her co-workers, to warn him and his family about the imminent danger and to offer them shelter. She was 21 years old at the time, he was 18. Thanks to her efforts, Marcus Strul and his family, including his mother, father and siblings, were saved from a pogrom -- in which thousands of Jews were murdered -- carried out by Romanian gendarmes, troops and German army units stationed in the area.
In the pogrom that took place in Iasi between June 29 and 30, 1941, 15,000 of the city’s 45,000 Jewish inhabitants were massacred. Holocaust scholar and professor Yehuda Bauer has written that the “pogrom in Iasi, which preceded the mass murders committed by the Nazis when they invaded the Soviet Union, was, in many respects, the beginning of the massacre of the Jews of Europe.”
Elisabetha did more than just warn and help Marcus Strul’s family. She also alerted many other Jews who lived near the Strul family. In total, she hid about 20 people in a storeroom for two weeks, providing them with food. After some of the men she sheltered were taken to forced-labor camps, Nicopoi traveled there to feed and clothe them. On one such occasion, she was arrested by the gendarmerie, beaten and detained for several days.
Elisabetha's story, however, does not end with her actions during the war. In 1949, she and Marcus married, she converted to Judaism, and, in 1963, the couple immigrated to Israel, where she continued to work in weaving. In 1987, Yad Vashem – The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem recognized her as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, thanks to several testimonies received on her behalf.
Lupo Zuta of Azor wrote to Yad Vashem that Strul “demonstrated courage and love for other human beings that only an exceptional individual could feel.” In his written testimony, he said that, in addition to the Jews she hid, she saved hundreds of Jews from a death by horrific torture” when she warned them of the fate awaiting them.
Iancu Mendel of Haifa, who knew Strul since 1938, wrote in his testimony to Yad Vashem that “she displayed solidarity with the Jews, despite the difficult period of Iron Guard rule in Romania.” Clara Bren also knew Elisabetha. She was 9 years old when Elisabetha came to their home, on the day of the pogrom, to warn them. Strul took Clara and her mother, along with other neighbors, to a hiding place and saved their lives.
Israel Silberman of Rishon Letzion, who also submitted testimony on Elisabetha’s actions, wrote, “I know that, when the [Romanian] government forced the Jews of the city of Iasi to wear the yellow Star of David, Elisabetha also proudly wore the Star of David, declaring that, in her view, this was a badge of honor, not shame.”
In Israel, she lived in three cities: Haifa, Tel Aviv and Kiryat Bialik. Her husband, Marcus, passed away in 1996. Their only son, Aryeh, says of his mother: “She was a very modest person. Anyone who spoke with her had to almost force her to tell her stories [about the war].”
But she did pass on to her son one of the stories that were not documented by Yad Vashem. When the pogrom began, a decree was issued ordering the heads of all Jewish families to report to police headquarters. Marcus Strul’s grandfather, Moishe, was one of the detainees. Elisabeth hurried to the police station and spoke to the police commander, who was one of her neighbors. She pleaded with him to release the elderly man, who, she said, was a good person. The police commander acceded to her request and released Moishe Strul. “He didn’t have to do that. He could easily have done exactly the opposite: He could have arrested her and investigated her connection to Moishe Strol. This is an amazing tale,” says Aryeh.
Elisabetha Strul passed away earlier this month. She was 93.