Not to forget and not to forgive. Lesson of the Holocaust from Jack Kagan
Jack Kagan, a former prisoner of the Novogrudok ghetto, an organizer and an active participant in perpetuation of memory about victims of the Nazi genocide of the Jews during the Holocaust in Novogrudok, passed away in London on December 18, 2016 at the age of 86.
He was born in Novogrudok, lost his entire family during the Holocaust. During the Nazi occupation, at the age of twelve, he was imprisoned in the ghetto, and then in a labor camp. After the escape accomplished by the last prisoners of the Novogrudok ghetto in September 1943, he joined the Bielski partisan detachment. By the end of the war he was only 15 years old, had no toes and was the only survivor from his family.
In 1945, Stalin allowed Poles and Jews with Polish citizenship before the war to repatriate to Poland. Many Jews used this opportunity to leave the Soviet Union.
Jack settled in London. There he started several companies, the last one produced stationery and was called Leor Plastic. Jack Kagan had never graduated from any educational institution, yet, made a good fortune. He made millions relying only on his own practical experience. He started to fill in gaps in his education only when he sold out his business. At that time he was about 70 years old. Together with his cousin Dov Cohen he began to write a book of memoirs Surviving the Holocaust with the Russian Jewish Partisans. The book was published in 1998. It has been translated into Belarusian, Russian, German and French ever since.
Despite all the horrors of the war and the loss of his entire family, Jack always had his hometown in his heart. He came to Novogrudok in 1991 after 45 years of emigration, erected monuments at the sites of three massacres and helped to open the Museum of Jewish Resistance https://www.facebook.com/jewishnovogrudok/
to preserve the memory about Novogrudok Jews and perpetuate the memory of the victims. On his initiative and with the direct participation of novogrudokers in Israel money was collected to fence the partially preserved Jewish cemetery. There was a monument erected at the cemetery in memory of the 500 years of history of the Novogrudok Jewish community.
Jack wanted the whole world to know about the resistance of Novogrudok Jews, about the escape of the ghetto prisoners through the tunnel and about the Bielski partisan detachment. A model of the Novogrudok labor camp was created by the survivors for the exhibition of Beit Lohamei HaGeta’ot (Ghetto Fighters’House) in Israel in 1949. Jack Kagan initiated and financed an exhibition about the Holocaust in Novogrudok and the tunnel escape at the Imperial War Museum in London. They made it possible to crawl a couple of meters under the model of the Novogrudok ghetto in the narrow space the size of the tunnel dug by the prisoners. The model was transferred to Novogrudok when the exhibition was closed after Jack Kagan had died. It is displayed at school No 7 in Novogrudok.
The Kagan family from Novogrudok represents the Holocaust in Belarus at the Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.
Jack Kagan and about 1,200 other Jews owe their lives to the Bielski brothers and the Jewish partisan detachment they organized. Now the story of the Bielski partisans is told in all leading museums of the world dedicated to the Holocaust.
For his contribution to preserving the memory about the history of the Jews of Novogrudok, Jack Kagan was awarded the title of an Honorary Citizen of Novogrudok and his name is included in the Book of Glory of Novogrudok.
Jack Kagan never forgot and never forgave what the Nazis had done to his family. He did everything he could to pass his life experience to the young for the world to be a better place where such atrocities as the Holocaust would never happen again. Did he succeed? Obviously not, yet, he preserved the history alive and left for us to continue his work.