Remarkable Rochester: Reflections on the people, places and things that bring us together
By any standard, Jack Feldman, a Holocaust survivor who died on Dec. 20 at age 95, had a life harder than most.
But as much as Feldman, who would have been 96 on New Year’s Day, was tested by unspeakable cruelty and loss, he lived a life marked by extraordinary kindness.
“He was not someone who was angry,” says his granddaughter Stacey Saiontz, who grew up in Pittsford. “He was just a happy person who gave to others.”
For his perseverance and his generosity, let’s add Jack Feldman’s name to the list of Remarkable Rochesterians that we’ve been compiling for years, though, it may be that “remarkable” is an inadequate adjective to describe his life.
As a Jewish teenager in Poland, Feldman and his family members were taken from their home into a ghetto. In the 1940s, the Nazis grabbed him off the streets and sent him to a series of labor and death camps, the last being Auschwitz. From there, in 1945, he and hundreds of others were sent on a death march that lasted more than three months before they were liberated by Russian troops.
Feldman would go on to marry another death-camp survivor, settle in Rochester and raise a family.
He opened a fish market on Joseph Avenue in the mid-fifties. He knew what hunger was like and was well-known for giving food to those in need. It’s likely that, because of this, his market was spared during the 1964 riots.
In 2007, when he was 81, Feldman was shot during a robbery at his store. “If they would have known who Jack is, they would never, ever done that,” Eddie Felder, a long-time employee of the market, told the Democrat and Chronicle. “Jack fed everyone.”
As the newspaper story predicted, Feldman came back to the store after he recovered, working there for many years.
When she was young, Saiontz, who now lives in Chappaqua, Westchester County, would talk to her grandfather about the story behind the number (A-17606) tattooed on his arm, the identifier he was given by the Nazis after he was taken prisoner.
In 2016, her son Elliott, then 10, would ask some of the same questions in the extraordinary HBO documentary, “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm.”
In the film, which was released in 2018, Elliott and his great-grandfather look at pictures taken before the war, pictures of Feldman’s family life, of peace, of all that was lost when the Nazis arrived.
Prompted by Elliott, Jack Feldman, who was the only member of his immediate family to survive the Holocaust, talks about life in the death camps, about nearly starving, about the long march, about rescue.
The conversation is tender, a young boy learning the harsh facts of a time when his great-grandfather was young as well.
Jack Feldman and his wife, Sally, who died before him, had three children, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Diagnosed with cancer last year, he was living at the Summit at Brighton when he died peacefully after a last meal of fish, the food he knew so well. Thus ended a good life.
“His story has changed a lot of people, the way they think, the way they act,” Elliott says at the end of the film. “You need to know it, to understand, to stop it from happening in future generations. … He’s a hero to most people for how he survived and stuff. I know he’s my family’s hero.”
As was mentioned, let’s add the name of this resilient and kindly man to the list of Remarkable Rochesterians found at https://data.democratandchronicle.com/remarkable-rochesterians/:
Jack Feldman (1926-2021): A Holocaust survivor who went on to settle in Rochester, he ran a fish market for years and gave back to the community in many ways. Born in Skarzysko-Kamiena, Poland, he grew up in Sosnowiec, Poland. After the Nazis invaded, he, and his family, were forced to live in a ghetto. In the 1940s, he was taken to a series of concentration camps ending in Auschwitz-Birkenau. In January 1945, he and other prisoners were forced on a death march from Poland to Germany. Many died before they were liberated by the Russians in May 1945.
From his home in Geneseo, Livingston County, retired senior editor Jim Memmott, writes Remarkable Rochester, who we were, who we are. He can be reached at email@example.com or write Box 274, Geneseo, NY 14454
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Remarkable Rochesterians: Jack Feldman endured Holocaust, owned market