“No Child’s Play”
The exhibit No Child's Play at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem presents the photos, drawings, toys, dolls, and board games of children who were victims of the Holocaust. Of the ca. 6 million persons killed, one and a half million were children. The intent of the site is to provide viewers with insight into the lives of children during the Shoah by focusing on the personal stories and material culture of those few who survived. The children's stories are presented here with texts and images, written and edited by Yehudit Inbar, curator of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum.
This collection of narratives and artifacts reveals that children found comfort and companionship in the material culture of their childhood that also enabled them to create a reality different from that which surrounded them. Moreover, the array of child-centered documentary sources demonstrates how children provided their parents with encouragement, hope, in addition to money and food, that enabled them to continue their desperate daily fight for survival. The introduction is followed by a sequence of chronologically-organized links: the world of children before the war; in the shadow of the war; in the ghettos and the camps; in hiding, and in their new life. The viewer can easily click through the individual pages of each chapter—which contain between three to 15 images—while maintaining direct access to the chapter titles located in the left-hand navigation bar.
The texts that accompany the images offer useful explanations and clearly highlight their significance in a broader context. As the author emphasizes about the photographs in the "Before the War" section, all children lived their own individual lives, and none of the images present anything unusual or extraordinary. These images of ordinary children's lives underscore, however, the horror that was to come. During the war, many parents tried to save their children by sending them abroad. Youth Aliyah, for instance, successfully sent some 5,000 children to Palestine, while 9,000 left Germany after Kristallnacht for Great Britain. The rising tide of anti-Semitism, however, forced the return of refugees such as Liesel Joseph, a passenger on the ill-fated Saint Louis. The ocean liner depicted in Liesels colorful drawing that was prevented from disembarking Jewish passengers in Cuba returned to Europe.
The chapter, "Ghettos and Camps," includes illustrations of pre-ghetto life by Czech artist Bedrich Fritta created in celebration of his son's third birthday. Also included are several illustrations of the Theresienstadt ghetto drawn by an artistically talented teenage boy and dolls owned by two survivors whose stories also shed light on the enormous importance of toys to children living in ghettos and camps. There are even photos of a monopoly-like board game created in a graphics workshop engaged in underground activities that sought to provide children with useful information about how to survive the ghetto. (Unfortunately, much of the text printed on the game board and playing cards is frustratingly illegible in the site's magnified version.)
For the section "In Hiding" the curator/editor included a selection of photographs of children with classmates and toys, as well as the teddy bear that belonged to a boy while hidden in Holland by a Christian family. The recollections of survivors included throughout the site provide unique insight into the personal meanings of children's possessions in a historically-specific context. The final section, "Toward a New Life," consists of only three black and white photos of groups of children and one boy who did not want to let go of a toy gun once he had been liberated from Buchenwald.
However small the selection of sources, No Child's Play is sure to provide students with a deeper understanding of the impact of the Holocaust on children by giving voice to its victims. Teachers might find the need to include supplementary sources (both primary and secondary) due to the site's scant documentation of the horrors of the Holocaust. There is no guide to additional resources, however. And, in the absence of useful teaching strategies, instructors might find it helpful to discuss with their students the different methods of analysis needed to unpack the variety of documentary sources—photographs, artifacts, narratives, etc.—that were created by and for children of the Holocaust.
How to Cite This Source
"“No Child’s Play”," in Children and Youth in History, Item #294, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/items/show/294 (accessed September 5, 2015).