Paper trails, paper roots, Summer edition

June 2024
Kaye Prince-Hollenberg

In May, the Margaret’s Legacy Holocaust Learning and Jewish Advocacy Centre opened its doors. I have had the distinct privilege of acting as the centre’s first curator, a labour of love that involved researching and writing for the permanent exhibit and selecting artifacts for display. Along with researcher Cory Osmond and Hamilton Jewish Federation CEO Gustavo Rymberg, we worked for many months to bring the experience together. Marrying aspects of a traditional museum with a Holocaust education facility, the centre embodies a living memorial to victims of the Holocaust while simultaneously celebrating our survivors and creating a welcoming space for anyone to learn. 

While I’ve previously worked on many Holocaust projects, from genealogy research for private clients to survivor memoir, curating the centre allowed me to research so many different aspects while also focusing on local survivor stories. Like the small exhibit I curated for Hamilton Public Library last year, but on a larger scale, I was able to talk to survivors’ family members and conduct in-depth research into each survivor’s Holocaust story. Their stories took me across Europe through written records, and oral testimony, and photographs. While we couldn’t tell every person’s story in the permanent exhibit, I have hope that in the future rotating exhibits can be utilized to focus on more individual survivors.

Researching an individual Holocaust story can be heartbreaking and overwhelming. There are so many websites and resources available, but even that only scratches the surface of possible documentation available. Much work has been done to digitize this material, most notably by Yad Vashem, the Arolsen Archives, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum but the work will continue for many years to come. One of the talks I sometimes deliver to historical societies and genealogy groups provides a basic overview of online Holocaust resources and even then, my handout is lengthy. This is not to discourage anyone from researching an individual experience, but rather to encourage you to keep researching, and keep digging! 

Only recently I cracked a case that I have been working on for a decade; I had been trying to identify a man who had submitted almost 600 testimony pages to Yad Vashem for his murdered neighbours and friends from the village of Korolowka, including our family. His surname wasn’t one I recognized but I knew he settled in Israel and every few months I would dig through records trying to find him, even reaching out to contacts in Israel to check old phonebooks for me. With just that surname and a first initial, I recently found a notation for his name change that included his original name and from there I was able to delve deeper and create a tree linking him back to Korolowka. It was extremely important to me that I be able to identify this man who had taken the time to memorialize hundreds of people, many of whom were murdered in the village in mass shootings and aren’t documented in any other way. Now I can keep him in my remembrances as well.

If you’re just starting your journey to research an individual Holocaust story, check the three main resources I mentioned above, as well as JewishGen. The Yad Vashem Shoah Names Database includes testimony pages submitted by survivors, researchers, family members, and town societies, as well as survivor registrations and indexed records from Yad Vashem’s own collections. It’s a great place to start.

An aside: In August I will be travelling to Philadelphia to give two talks at the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies annual conference. My sessions will include Landscape of Dreams: Jewish Genealogy in Canada, and Holocaust Compensation and the United Restitution Organization. There’s still time to register for the conference, so check out the IAJGS2024 website if you’re interested, and don’t forget to introduce yourself while you’re there!

To submit a question or if you have some Hamilton Jewish history to share, please email