The small booklet, so thin and nondescript as to be easily missed, was sitting on a shelf in the back stacks of the Hamilton Public Library (HPL) archives when Kaye Prince-Hollenberg happened across it towards the end of 2019. Its title, Holocaust Recollections, the stories of 10 Hamiltonians who survived, was of immediate interest to the HPL librarian, who also happens to be a professional genealogist with a special interest in Holocaust-related research. Prince-Hollenberg’s first thought was to set up a rotating exhibit in the library’s Local History and Archives department to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. She and an HPL colleague even pitched the idea to Federation CEO Gustavo Rymberg in February 2020. A month later, the world shut down, but Prince-Hollenberg never let go of her desire to share these stories.
Thanks to her resolve, a new display at the library’s central branch is bringing those stories to Hamiltonians.
It would take more than three years for Prince-Hollenberg to find the “appropriate time,” but holding to her vision has culminated in a new exhibit at the Hamilton Public Library’s central branch that pairs the Holocaust recollection booklet with the library’s 2023 Hamilton Reads pick, Gary Barwin’s Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted. The exhibit includes two glass display cases located on the library’s third floor, the first highlighting the Holocaust experiences of four of the 10 survivors whose stories are included in the publication, the second showcasing Barwin’s book, alongside a 3D printed replica of the Wallenberg memorial in London, UK, and a paper suitcase, a nod to Barwin’s artistic collaboration on the Raoul Wallenberg Be:longings art installation at Churchill Park.
A close look at the Holocaust Recollections booklet reveals it was sponsored by Hamilton Jewish Social Services in 1984 under the leadership of the late Carol Krames and made possible by a federal grant. Its authors, Sonia Halpern and Jack Joseph, university students at the time, write of the challenges inherent in persuading local survivors to speak about the horrors of their past in the publication’s foreword. Of 23 Holocaust survivors they initially contacted, only 10 agreed to participate in the project. Those individuals, who included Rena Freeman, Elizabeth Schwartz, Helen Gross, Maier Solomon, Helen Joseph, Sam Szpirglas, Helen Vine, Paul Bogart, David Schoenberg, and Jack Rosen, agreed to sit down for a 90-minute interview, their stories summarized in each of the booklet’s 10 chapters. Their reasons for participating, explained Halpern and Joseph, were “to make public their invaluable stories in the desperate hope that the atrocities of World War II neither be forgotten nor repeated.”
The, booklet, which has now been digitalized, is freely accessible to anyone via the HPL’s Internet Archive portal (archive.org/details/hamiltoncollection) but the actual display, which includes additional biographical information and photographs, of Helen Vine, Jack Rosen, Paul Bogart and Rena Freeman that Prince-Hollenberg found in the Spectator archives is well worth a visit to the library.
It’s fair to say that without Prince-Hollenberg, this exhibit would never have seen the light of day.
“I was pretty excited after three-and-a-half years to finally put those stories out there and allow everyone in Hamilton to read them,” she told the HJN, after contacting the newspaper earlier this summer. But it wasn’t only the upcoming HPL exhibit that prompted Prince-Hollenberg to contact the editor. She was also interested in writing a regular column for the paper on Jewish genealogy, an offer the HJN enthusiastically accepted.
Prince-Hollenberg, who is not Jewish, says her 20-year interest in genealogy originates with big family reunions her grandmother would host. Her first foray into Jewish genealogy came about after investigating her Jewish in-laws’ family connection to the Ukrainian village of Korolivka, home to another Jewish family whose story of hiding in underground caves for 18 months is the subject of the 2012 documentary, No Place on Earth. Prince-Hollenberg has since become something of an expert in Jewish genealogical research and hopes her column (see page 19) will be a vehicle to help others.