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Rafael Feferman, Shoah Survivor, Dies at 86

Rafael Feferman, a survivor of the Holocaust and longtime supporter of Yad Vashem passed away on July 7, 2013 in Calvary Hospital, New York. His greatest achievement, he told friends, was the restoration and rededication of the Jewish cemetery in 2006 in Wachock, Poland, the shtetl of his birth.  However of equal significance is the detailed map he created from memory which depicted the streets surrounding the village’s Town Square, labeling each house with numbers from 1-93 and identifying each family by surname and the number of children, and offering an annotated accounting of who survived and who perished from among the town’s 459 Jewish inhabitants at the time of the Nazi invasion.  This primary source is housed in the archives of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem (Record Group .041/File 498).

Born in Wachock on January 14, 1927 in the Kielce region in the center of Poland, Rafael Feferman was the youngest of three children of Shmuel Moshe of Ostrowiec and Basha Chana.  His maternal grandfather, Moshe Zelinger was a follower of the Hasidic Rebbe of Ger, a recognized scholar and a pillar of the small Jewish community.  Rafael was a talented student and displayed unusual recall of the Bible and Talmud throughout his life.  As a child, he was keenly interested in metal working and spent his free time observing the tradesmen work in the local shops—an experience that would serve him well during the Nazi occupation and subsequently in his postwar years in America.

When the Nazis invaded Wachock on September 14, 1939, twelve year old Rafael and his brother Efraim Pinchas were taken along with about 50 other able bodied boys and men to labor in the Herman Goering Works munitions factory in nearby Wierzbnik-Starachowice.  For the next 3 years, they were marched to and from work each morning and night.  On the morning of September 20, 1942, the Jews of Wachock were ordered to leave their homes and gather in the town square with the possessions they could carry; they were taken to Wierzbnik where the selections would occur three days later. 

Feferman tells how his brother Efraim met his fate after contracting typhus in the labor camp:  “…he was too sick to get up, and stayed behind while we went off to work…. That day, the Camp Commandant, named Althof, gathered up all the people unable to go to work.  Walking, or being carried they were taken to a wooded area near to an abandoned firing range.  There they were all promptly shot dead, including my brother.  All the bodies were dumped into a newly dug pit, to serve as a mass grave, and covered over.”

Feferman’s remaining family—mother, father and sister Leah Brenda—along with approximately 3000 Jews from Wierzbnik and Wachock were transported by train cattle cars to the death camp of Treblinka.  For the next three years Feferman was interned in Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Holzhiem until he was liberated by the American Army in the town of Weterfeld in Germany on April 23, 1945.

Despite initial plans to immigrate with friends to the newly founded state of Israel, even shipping some machinery there with the plan to open a shop, he came instead to New York in 1950 where he started a tool and die company.

In the DVD Feferman commissioned to document the Wachock cemetery rededication in 2006, he says the event “filled me with an unbounded joy and peace…. After the Shoah, there were no Jews left in the town of Wachock to take care of the final resting place of these holy people.  By restoring this holy place, I am assured that they will now rest in peace.  I will also accept my own future death with a clear conscience that I did my duty to ensure the continued care of all these holy people, and that the monuments and memorials we have erected will bring alive their memories far into the future.”  At the time, Feferman also initiated an annual scholarship program with the local high school to encourage Holocaust education, teach tolerance and foster reconciliation between Jews and Poles.  This program is ongoing. 

Rafael Feferman was buried in Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem, Israel. 

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