WEST HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) – Ukraine played a role in the Holocaust as many Jews from Poland fled there trying to escape the Nazis.

A retired doctor in West Hartford shared the story of his childhood in Ukraine and explains how the current war is bringing back some painful memories.

World War II changed everything for Leon Chameides. He was a 3-year-old Jewish boy in southwestern Poland and experienced his first glimpse of anti-Semitism in 1941.

“There was a lot of beatings, humiliation. I remember the screams, I remember my grandmother whose teeth were knocked out, and her face was bloodied. I remember those incidents, being terrified, sitting in a cellar,” Chameides said. “By 1942, it was clear to my parents that the intent was to kill every Jew and children particularly vulnerable.”

So, his father used a connection he had with an Archbishop in a Catholic church in the Ukrainian city of Lviv.

“He approached him and asked him if he would hide his two children,” Chameides said.

This family would never be together again and a 7-year-old boy was in a totally new environment, learning a new language, a new religion, confused and scared.

“I suddenly had to learn how to speak Ukrainian, I had to pretend. I was given a new name, my name was Lev. I had to go over it and over it in my mind because I was afraid that if I was woken up in the middle of the night and someone said, ‘what’s your name,’ I would blurt out my real name,” Chameides said.

At 9 years old, he started helping a physician’s assistant in a makeshift hospital at the church.

“I would go into the forest and try to find dead soldiers particularly if they were German soldiers because they always had first aid kits and we had nothing,” Chameides said.

Life was frightening, but Chameides survived and will always be grateful to the Ukrainian monks who helped raise him.

His brother also escaped, but his parents died at the hands of the Nazis. After the monastery, Chameides was taken in by a woman who also lost her family. They moved to England, then New York, where he went to medical school, eventually becoming a pediatric cardiologist at Hartford Hospital.

As an adult, he traveled, researched his past, and wrote a book about his lost family.

Chameides, now 86, is very affected by the current war in Ukraine, especially by the footage of refugees.

“I remember sleeping all night waiting for a train to evacuate me out to Poland,” Chameides said.

He is proud of Ukraine and hopes the changes he’s seen help to strengthen the country that meant so much to his absolutely incredible life.