Paper trails, paper roots, Passover edition

April 2024
Kaye Prince Hollenberg

With Passover almost upon us, I’ve been thinking about our cousin Feiga. As a young girl, Feiga survived the Holocaust and was the only survivor of her immediate family. 

Born in Korolowka about 1933 (she wasn’t sure of her exact birthdate), she was in the Borszczow ghetto for a time but also hid with various families around Korolowka and in the surrounding forest. Her father Hersch, mother Sala, and three younger brothers Chaskel, Bunion, and Mendel were all murdered. Feiga was shot in the foot towards the end of the war by a Ukrainian gang. 

Reunited with her maternal uncle Israel and his wife Bertha, the three made their way from Korolowka to the Gabersee Displaced Persons camp in Bavaria. Feiga dreamed of moving to the United States but Israel and Bertha couldn’t go with her due to quota restrictions. 

In 1947, Feiga travelled to the US alone aboard the SS Ernie Pyle and after a time ended up in Boston. The Jewish Family and Children’s Service found multiple adoptive families for Feiga, but she wouldn’t allow herself to be adopted. Eventually the JF&CS enrolled her at the Windsor Mountain School, an overnight co-ed institution. Feiga said that school saved her soul. She earned a master’s degree from the Boston University School of Social Work, married and had three children.

The town of Korolowka has become somewhat well-known in Holocaust research circles because of stories that have emerged about Jews hiding in surrounding cave systems during the war. It was while researching these stories that I heard about Feiga and discovered that she was family. Feiga had provided oral testimony to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and I found a couple of references to Feiga and her family in Esther Stermer’s We Fight to Survive (Stermer’s memoir about her time hiding in the caves). Stermer relates how the bodies of Feiga’s father and oldest brother were left outside the entrance to the cave as a warning to those hiding within.

I mentioned Feiga to a family member who had a vague memory of her visiting the family cottage in Manitoba in the late 1940s (I would come to discover that Israel and Bertha had arrived in Canada in 1948 and settled in Winnipeg). I reached out to Chris Nicola, the explorer who brought the Korolowka cave story to light, and he was able to put me in touch with Feiga’s son. Soon, I was on the phone with Feiga in Boston and we continued to exchange letters until her death in 2021. I feel incredibly grateful to know her story and to have had that time with her. 

I think about Feiga around Passover especially because of a newspaper article I found. In 1949, a picture of Feiga and a group of fellow orphans appeared in The Jewish Weekly Times. Twenty-five orphans, many newly arrived in America, were taking part in Passover festivities at Bradshaw House in Dorchester. Bradshaw House had been set up by the JF&CS as a sort of “home base” for older orphans, teenagers really, many of whom were attending overnight schools like Feiga. In the photo, the orphans (along with their house mother) each hold aloft a small glass of wine while reading the Haggadah. For me, the image and its tie to the Passover story conjures thoughts of escape and liberation and I wonder if these children had similar ideas? Or were they preoccupied with their new lives, always thinking forward? Were they happy to have fellowship amongst others who understood? Or did they dream of something entirely different?

Sometimes when doing my genealogy research, I think of a question I’d like to ask Feiga—something about the town or about her father’s sisters (somehow it appears I never found out their names) —and I kick myself a little for not writing those questions down in one of my letters. So, this Passover, as you connect with family ask questions about your relatives and ask to hear those family stories. You never know what small detail might help you with your research.

If you would like to submit a question or have some Hamilton Jewish history to share, please email