My Father Was Born From the Ashes of the Holocaust; My Son Looks Just Like Him

My Father Was Born From the Ashes of the Holocaust; My Son Looks Just Like Him

Yael Feder Devonshire recently submitted an entry into the Father’s Day Lookalike Contest that caught our attention. Not only was the resemblance between her father Gershon Feder and son David (“Davey”) Feder Devonshire striking, but she also explained how special it is for her family to pass their family name to the next generation — since most of her family was tragically killed during the Holocaust. We asked her to tell us how her paternal grandparents (Gershon’s parents), Luba and Chaim Feder, survived the war.

Do you have a story to share with us? Please do!

Yael shares an abridged version:

An orphaned teenager in Chelm

Luba was born in 1924 to her parents Hinda and Gershon in the town of Chelm, Poland. She was the oldest of three daughters.

After the German invasion of Poland in 1939, the Izaksons felt — as did many of Chelm’s Jewish residents — that it was dangerous for Jewish men to stay, but that women and children would be safe from harm. Little did they know how barbaric the Nazis were. Luba’s father Gershon snuck into the nearby Russian-occupied town of Kowel, while Hinda and the daughters remained in German-occupied Chelm. In 1940, 16-year-old Luba, her mother, and her younger sisters were forced to move into the newly-established Jewish ghetto in Chelm. Luba was assigned the job of cleaning the German police headquarters.

Images of very similar-lookin young boys side by side

Left: Yael’s father Gershon as a boy wearing tefillin (phylacteries); right: Yael’s son David with the same smile

In the summer of 1942, the Germans rounded up Chelm’s Jews and sent them to their deaths at the Sobibor extermination camp. Luba’s mother and sisters were among the victims. Luba was spared deportation because she was needed for forced labor. Luba was devastated by the loss of her mother and sisters, and then further heartbroken to learn of her father Gershon’s murder in the Kowel ghetto liquidation.

She found comfort through her friendship with fellow laborer Sara, another Jewish teenage girl orphaned as a result of the deportations. Earlier, Sara’s family had contacted a Polish Catholic friend named Wanda to arrange for help should circumstances worsen. Sara took Luba to Wanda’s home in Chelm for a warm meal. This was the only time Luba had met Wanda.

Luba and Sara had a small amount of money their parents had given them. Starving on their rations, they took turns sneaking out of their barracks to purchase bread early in the morning, before their work shift. One morning in 1943, it was Luba’s turn to purchase bread. As she returned, she witnessed gun-bearing Nazis loading Sara and other Jewish ghetto residents onto a wagon transport to Sobibor. Terrified, Luba ran to Wanda’s house for shelter. Wanda took her in and consoled the terrified and depressed teenager that one day the war would end, and this helped Luba have the will to continue living without her family.

Images of very similar-lookin young boys side by side

Left: Gershon Feder as a young child; right, David Feder wearing the same expression

Returning to find his whole family was gone

Chaim Feder was born in 1912 in the nearby village of Dubienka, and was raised and lived in Chelm. He was married and had two little boys. Chaim was a tailor and had both Jewish and Catholic clients.

After the Nazi occupation, Chaim placed his wife and two little boys in Dubienka for safekeeping, because he assumed women and children in a rural village would not be in danger. Chaim then snuck across the German-Russian occupation border and continued to Moscow. He was arrested for being a foreigner and sent to a labor camp in the Komi Republic. In the summer of 1940, Chaim was released. Hoping to re-establish contact with his wife and children, he went to Kowel. Chaim miraculously escaped the Kowel ghetto liquidation in 1942, because he could not reach his planned hiding spot in the attic in time and hid under the kitchen table instead, where the raiding Germans and Ukrainian collaborators did not look to find him. The other occupants of his house — and thousands of other residents of the Jewish ghetto in Kowel — were murdered.

Chaim had only one place he could turn to for help: the Kowel home of a former client, a Polish Catholic train employee working the Chelm-Kowel locomotive line. This brave man loaned his train employee uniform to Chaim so that Chaim could smuggle himself into Chelm’s Jewish ghetto and try to find his family.

Thus Chaim arrived in the Chelm ghetto in 1942, and learned the tragic news that his wife and two little boys, as well as his parents and siblings, had been sent to their death at Sobibor only weeks before his arrival.

Chaim escaped the ghetto and took shelter at the home of another former Polish Catholic client in exchange for performing tailoring work. While it was a business arrangement, it was very courageous of this Chelm neighbor to help, because aiding Jews was a crime punishable by death under the Nazi occupation regime.

Out of the ashes, a love story was born

In 1944, Wanda’s neighbor accused her of hiding a Jewish fugitive and endangering the lives of the entire street. Wanda knew that someone else in the neighborhood (the neighbor hiding Chaim) was also hiding a Jew. Wanda proposed that if Luba stayed at the other house temporarily, the neighbor would stop pestering her after being able to come in and “inspect” Wanda’s house and find no Jews hiding there.

Luba went to this woman (we shall call her Mrs. Demsky) and left a letter “in case a Jewish man comes for mail.” In this way, Luba did not directly accuse Mrs. Demsky of harboring a Jew, but gave a secret hint that she knew Chaim was living there.

Chaim and Luba did not know each other before the war, since Chaim was 12 years older than Luba and already married with two young children. But after reading the letter from Luba, Chaim wanted to help her and asked Mrs. Demsky to allow Luba into the home with them for one month. Mrs. Demsky agreed, and one month later, Wanda happily reported that the neighbor was no longer bothering her and Luba could safely return.

However, in the meantime Luba and Chaim had fallen in love and wanted to remain together. So Luba stayed with Chaim, and together they visited Wanda’s home a few times at night when it was dark and they could walk undetected.

Shortly after Chelm’s liberation in late July 1944, Chaim and Luba married. In 1946, they left Poland to stay at a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany. In 1947, Gershon (named for Luba’s father) was born.

Grandson-grandfather lookalikes: Images of very similar-lookin young boys side by side

Gershon (left) and David (right) as babies

Images of very similar-lookin young boys side by side

Gershon (left) and David (right) as young children with identical expressions

In 1949, they emigrated to Israel, where daughter Bat Sheva (named for Chaim’s mother) was born, and years later Gershon immigrated to the United States where he lives today. In 2018, Gershon helped to ensure that Wanda’s heroic deed was recognized posthumously by Yad Vashem with the esteemed award of “Righteous Among the Nations.”

I have always been interested in history and genealogy, but wasn’t able to dedicate time to my hobby until taking a break from the workforce to be home with our son. Among the many exciting discoveries I have made in my research, a special one involves the DNA matches from MyHeritage: we reconnected with a “lost branch” of our Feder family!

Many, many thanks to Yael for sharing this deeply moving story and the wonderful photos of her father and son.

If you have some striking resemblances in your family, the Photo Enhancer can make them even more obvious by sharpening photos and bringing blurry faces into focus. Try it now!