Jack Kagan

Jack Kagan

Jack was born on 7 April 1929 and grew up in the town of Novogrudok, Belarus. The son of a leatherworker, Jack and his immediate family were taken to a work camp. In the terrible winter of 1942, Jack made an attempt to escape with a small group of young prisoners. Whilst crossing a brook he fell through the ice and soaked his boots. Realizing that he would die of frostbite, he was forced to return to the camp. A fellow prisoner, a dentist by profession, cut Jack’s toes off without equipment, thereby saving his life. A few months later, his mother, sister, aunt and uncle were taken out of the camp and killed. His father was transferred to another camp and never seen again. In May 1943, an escape by tunnel was planned. During the night of 26 September the entire camp of 250 Jews escaped through a narrow 200 yard long tunnel. 70 were killed but Jack made it through and eventually joined the Jewish Bielski partisans marching, as he says, not on his broken and bleeding feet but on the strength of his spirit.

After the war, in 1946, Jack got a visa invitation to enter England. In London, without money, language, family or connections (but with The Boys as friends and support) Jack worked hard at his trade - leather cutting. Very soon though, he switched materials from skins to plastic and opened his own factory. He built a successful business. In 1955, he married Barbara Steinfeld and together they built a Jewish home with their three children.

In the 1990’s Jack returned to Novogrudok. He established monuments to the Jews of the town, many of whom were members of his family. He also established the museum to commemorate the heroism of Jewish partisans. He has participated in various educational programs and published three books about his life. Recently a film was made Tunnel of Hope about the search for the remains of the tunnel by, amongst others, his children and grandchildren.

In 2013 Jack was appointed by the Prime Minister of Britain to become a member of the Holocaust Commission that would decide the future of Holocaust education in the UK. He was also awarded the Medal of Heroism by the Belarusian government. The photos in his square are of him as a young man taken in 1946 in DPC; with his wife Barbara in 2015 and a photo of him in the Belarusian red sash of honour which was taken in 2014.

Michael Kagan

Posted in the Memory Quilt.