Jack Feldman was born Srulek Feldman in 1926, in Skarzysko-Kamienna, Poland, to Szaja Feldman and Matla (Cukier) Feldman. He had a younger brother, Szulim Hersh, and an older sister, Sura Laja. Shortly after his birth, Jack’s family moved to Sosnowiec, Poland, where his father, a cap maker, established a store on the first floor of their home on Modrejowska Street at the corner of Dekarta.
His parents believed strongly in education and sent him to public school every day. After school hours, they hired English, German and Hebrew tutors to instruct him at home. Jack lived a very comfortable life. He loved to play soccer with his friends. His family was orthodox and he attended shul on Dekarta Street where he had his Bar Mitzvah before the war broke out.
Jack’s paternal grandparents, as well as his father’s six siblings and their families, lived in Skaryzsko-Kamienna. Jack was visiting his aunts, uncles, and cousins there in September 1939 when the war broke out. He was eventually able to make his way safely back home. However, everything started to change: he could no longer attend school and his father’s cap business was taken over by a German official (Trueshandler). Later, his family was forced to leave their beautiful home and move into the Sosonowiec Ghetto where they shared a one-room apartment with fifteen other people.
In 1940, when Jack, now fourteen, was walking with some boys in the Ghetto, a wagon pulled up, grabbed him, and took him away. He never saw his parents and siblings again. He was thrown into the basement of a building and locked up to await deportation to a series of Nazi labor and death camps. He was sent to Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald, Annaberg, Fallsbruck, Gleiwice, Ludwigsdorf and ultimately Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Jack arrived at Auschwitz on July 23, 1944, on a transport from the Ludigsdorf Camp. Of the 455 men on the transport, 370 were sent directly to the gas chambers. When Jack got off the train, Mengele ordered him to join the line of those going to the gas chamber. However, a Kapo, who had once worked in his father’s hat company, recognized him and pulled him into the work line, joining eighty-five other men admitted into the camp, tattooed with numbers A-17592 through 17676 on their arms. Jack’s number was A-17606. The Kapo also gave Jack an extra job at Auschwitz-Birkenau: cleaning the block elders’ room. Jack believes this extra job saved his life, as he was able to eat the extra scraps of food he found when cleaning the room.
Jack was not liberated at Auschwitz-Birkenau. On January 17, 1945, as the Soviet army was approaching Auschwitz, Jack, along with many other prisoners, was forced on a death march from Poland to Germany through the winter of 1945 until May 5, 1945 when he was finally liberated by the side of a road in Germany. By then Jack was 19 years old. In those teenage years, he borne witness to some of the worst atrocities perpetrated by mankind.
After liberation, Jack made his way back home, only to learn that none of his immediate family members had survived. Next he travelled to Skarzysko-Kamienna to inquire whether any members of his extended family remained. There he found his cousins, Charlie, Ester and Sara, and his future bride Sura (See also Sally Feldman). After hearing that there was a pogrom in Kielce, Jack, Sura and his relatives made their way to Germany to the Feldafing Displaced Persons Camp where he married Sura. Two years later they gave birth to a son named Szyja Chaskiel “Sammy” after both of their fathers.
In March 1949, Jack brought his wife and son to the USA on the USS Marine Flasher. They settled in Rochester, New York, where Jack and his wife gave birth to two additional children, Irving and Rochelle. Jack opened Modern Fish Market on Joseph Avenue. Several people would come into the market saying that they were starving and didn’t have any money to pay for the fish. Because, as Jack remarked, “He knew what hunger was,” he would feed those who needed food for free. The community loved Jack. During the 1964 race riots in downtown Rochester, Modern Fish Market was one of the few stores left untouched. The community protected his store because he was so good to the community.
Unfortunately, Jack was shot during a robbery at the Fish Market in 2006. Once again, he was resilient and, to this day, continues to give back to the community. In 2015, Jack was invited by President Obama to attend the White House Hanukah party. Jack is the proud father of three children, six grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
Biography written by Stacey Feldman Saiontz, granddaughter