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Portrait of a Child - Otto Unger Yad Vashem

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The Theresienstadt ghetto was established in the area of a fortress that had once served as the living quarters for the Czech army.
The deportations of the Jews to Theresienstadt created terrible over crowding. The men were separated from the women, and they lived in different barracks. This caused a situation wherein most families did not live together. In order to make the conditions better for the children, the Jewish leadership initiated the movement of some of the children to special homes (heim).These homes were established in public buildings. In the heim the children were educated, were able to receive better food rations than the adults, and, for many hours of the day were under the direct supervision of the madrichim. This is why many of the parents preferred that the children live in the heims without them. These conditions created a unique atmosphere.

How did these conditions impact on the relationships between the children and those surrounding them?
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Yad Vashem  For the Teacher
Parents play a crucial role in the formation of their children's identity and destiny. They mold the children's self-image, recognize their individual aspirations and instill in them the values that will guide their children's lives. The relations between parents and children are based on closeness and mutual dependence. The children need the parent to provide all of their basic needs - food, shelter, and unconditional love, and the parents need their children to give their own lives a purpose and continuity. The children's growth and the stability of their inner world depend to a large extent on the parents' ability to fulfill this role.
Opening question:
Think of the surroundings that you are familiar with: What elements are essential for a normal, healthy childhood?


Yad Vashem Activity:
Read the following sources and watch the testimony on video. When you are finished, you can discuss the questions in the next paragraph:

Source A  The humiliation of parents in the eyes of their children
Source B On the living conditions of parents Source C About the loss of childhood
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Yad Vashem  For the Teacher
The separation from their parents forced the children to become responsible and independent. In the barracks, the madrichim played a very important role in the children's lives, while the parents were forced aside. In addition, the parents were deprived of their basic right to bring up their children with a sense of their values and to impart their world-view to them. Parents frequently stood by helplessly watching the ways in which their children were forced to grow up because of their harsh living conditions such as epidemics, disease, and humiliation. If that was not enough, the deportation train left the ghetto every week, instilling terror in the hearts of the few who remained. Sometimes the members of a family were separated and sent alone to their deaths in the camps.
Yad Vashem Questions for Discussion:
a. Did the children's separate housing from their parents change the nature of the relationship between parents and children (distance, closeness, undermining authority, and so on)?
b. What dilemmas arise in the preceding texts? How can the children and their parents resolve the dilemmas? Which dilemmas cannot be resolved?

Often, one of the serious crises that occurred during the Holocaust was the loss of the parents' ability to protect their children and create a healthy living environment for them. They were deprived of the experience of parenthood. In this reality, the child was required to create a world for himself/herself that balanced the reality that was imposed on him/her, the limited ability of his/hers parents to help him/her, and his/her own capabilities to cope with the challenges. The parents were more often than not helpless and unable to alleviate their children's hardships. This shook up the balance in the relationship between parents and children.

How did the children deal with daily life in the ghetto?
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