Lathe & Chess Set made in the Detention Camps in Cyprus
A lathe used by Yisrael and Yitzhak Roth and their cousin Aryeh Klein to make chess pieces in the detention camps in Cyprus; A chess set made in Cyprus using the lathe.
Yisrael Roth was born in 1925 in the village of Kotelek in Hungary to Andras Roth and Rosa née Rosenfeld. The couple had three children, Yitzhak, Yisrael and Chava.
The children went to school in the regional capital Szolnok. At 14, when Yisrael finished school, he was apprenticed to a Jewish-owned metal work factory in Szolnok.
With the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944, Yisrael and Yitzhak were forced to move back to their village and they moved with their family into the Ghetto where the Jews of the area were concentrated. At the beginning of May, Yisrael & Yitzhak were forced to join the labor battalions. Later, their parents together with Chava were deported to Auschwitz.
Yisrael was sent from one work camp to another. Thanks to his professional talents and a series of lucky circumstances he managed to survive the difficult period in conditions that, compared to others, were relatively reasonable. With the advance of the Red Army, the chaos in Budapest was such that Yisrael managed to avoid deportation until Budapest was liberated.
At the end of the war Yisrael was released from the labor battalions and returned to Kotelek. His brother Yitzhak, who had been deported from Budapest to Mathausen camp, was liberated in poor physical condition, but manged to return home as well. Their sister Rosa and their mother Chava, who had both been transferred from Auschwitz to a work camp in Germany, also survived but only returned later. Their father, Andras Roth was murdered in Auschwitz.
Aryeh Klein, Yisrael's cousin, born in 1925 in Tiszasuly, Hungary, was the youngest of the four children of Josef Klein and Erszebet née Roth. Aryeh was also sent in 1944 for forced labor in the labor battalions. As the front came closer, the Germans sent them to Germany. Together with seven others, Aryeh managed to jump from the train and hide until the arrival of the Red army. They were initially taken prisoner but were released when an order came through to release all Hungarians. When Aryeh returned home, he discovered that he was the sole survivor of his immediate family. His parents had been deported to Auschwitz and murdered. His older brother Franz was hanged after attempting to escape from his labor battalion to join the resistance.
At first Aryeh lived with a fellow survivor that he befriended, but when he heard that his cousin Yisrael Roth had returned, he joined his cousins.
After a short time, the Roth family and their cousin Aryeh Klein made their way to Eretz Israel in the framework of the Shomer Haz'air Zionist movement.
In December 1946 the ship "Knesset Israel" sailed to Eretz Yisrael with many "ma'apilim". As the ship approached the shore of Eretz Israel, British warships surrounded it and the prospective immigrants were deported to detention camps in Cyprus. In the camps the detainees, the overwhelming majority of them Holocaust survivors, were organized into "Kibbutzim" according to their Zionist movement affiliation. Yisrael, his brother Yitzhak and Aryeh were together and used their talents in their Kibbutz to improve their conditions in the camps in Cyprus.
Their first project involved pilfering metal rods from the British and building showers for their group. Later, they built an oven and at the behest of one of the movement emissaries, Yisrael built a zip-line so the detainees could engage in sports. Their tools were obtained from a British soldier who wasn't paying careful attention to his belongings.
One of the group members was a chess champion who offered to teach the game to his fellow detainees if they could provide him with a board and chessmen. At first, the three made chess pieces from stone that they found in an abandoned cemetery, but then Yisrael came up with the idea of making a lathe that would enable them to mass produce chess pieces. They bartered a skate from a fellow detainee in exchange for foodstuffs and they built their first lathe from the wheels.
In this manner they began a small industry making chess games. Yisrael cut the wood pieces on the lathe, Aryeh carved the details and Yitzhak made the boxes. The three sold the games to the Jewish Agency representatives who supplied them to the other survivors who then sold them to the British soldiers who paid good money for the games.
When the survivors were liberated from Cyprus and allowed to immigrate to Israel, Yisrael, Yitzhak and Aryeh were among the founding members of Kibbutz Bet Kama in the Negev. Aryeh met his wife Leah in the Kibbutz and together they moved to Jerusalem. In 2005 he donated the chess set to Yad Vashem.
Yisrael settled on the Kibbutz and employed his skills in the Israel Aircraft industry. After the death of his wife, he married Elvira, a widow from Kibbutz Bar'am and moved there. Yisrael Roth (today Ron) brought the lathe with him from Cyprus and donated it to Yad Vashem's artifacts collection in 2011.
Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection, Gift of Yisrael Ron, Kibbutz Bar'am
Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection, Gift of Aryeh Klein, Jerusalem