November 29, 2021
Survivor Portraits – Jack Feiler
This month we share the story of Holocaust survivor, Jack Feiler.
Image: Katherine Griffiths
Jack was born in June 1944 in the village of Nowa Gora just outside of Krakow, Poland, where a small group of Jewish people were hiding in the farmstead of local villagers.
One night his mother, Lola, who had been feeling unwell for months was struck with unbearable pain. To the surprise of her and her husband, Bolek, a little blue-eyed Jack was born.
Everyone was stunned and unsure what to do. The farmers hiding them, Stefan and Zofia Chucherko, were first to utter what everyone already knew: “if a baby cries, everyone’s life is in danger”.
If the child had cried, which it was certain he would, the sound would have been a magnet for the Nazis who patrolled the rural village.
Bolek had no choice but to do the unimaginable. He strangled his son, wrapped him in cloth and placed him in a drawer, ready to be buried the following morning.
Then a few hours later, out of nowhere, the child began to cry.
Incapable of harming his son again, Bolek put little Jack in a basket, and under the cover of darkness, a local priest left him the doorstep of a childless couple.
The couple greeted the baby as a miracle; an answer to their long-held prayers for a child. They took him in, named him ‘Peter’, raised him as their own, and even baptised him in church.
After the war ended, Bolek and Lola visited the couple. Despite their sadness and loss, Jack’s adopted family returned the little boy to his biological parents.
Jack and his family migrated to Australia in May 1951 when he was still a young boy.
Traumatised from the war, Bolek and Lola Feiler found it hard to talk to their son about what had happened to him in hiding, only able to say that the fact that he was alive was “a miracle”.
As such, the truth of his childhood was only revealed to Jack when he was 10 years old. Flipping through the pages of a magazine, he read a story titled ‘A Boy Called Peter’. On these pages, he learned of what had happened in that small Polish village during the war.
Decades later, Jack met with the nephew of the adoptive parents who had saved him. He discovered his biological parents had sent them dozens of pictures all the way from Australia over the years. They had created a photo album with all the images, which the couple held until their death.
Jack (left), pictured with his father, Bolek (right). Mark Tedeschi, 1992.
“There were pictures of me when I was a little boy in Paris, there were pictures when I got married to my wife. There were pictures when I graduated from university, and there were pictures of when my two eldest children were small,” says Jack.
“It was extremely moving because he said to me that my foster mother passed away in 1988, she was 95, and it was always her dream to see me. Unfortunately, I never saw her.”
“I wish I did speak to my dad about the origins of my birth and what happened during the Holocaust, but I never did. I felt that if I did bring the subject up that he might be hurt”.
With the death of both his adoptive and biological parents, Jack’s questions about those first few years of his life will likely remain unanswered.
To read more from our Survivor Portraits blog series, click here.
To explore the personal stories and anecdotes of Holocaust survivors, click here for our first online exhibition.