Bearing Witness: Stories Behind the Artifacts in the Yad Vashem Museum Collection

A Workshop for making chess pieces in a Detainment Camp in Cyprus

A chess set made by Yisrael & Yitzhak Roth and Aryeh Klein in the detainment camp in CyprusA chess set made by Yisrael & Yitzhak Roth and Aryeh Klein in the detainment camp in Cyprus A chess set made by Yisrael & Yitzhak Roth and Aryeh Klein in the detainment camp in Cyprus A chess set made by Yisrael & Yitzhak Roth and Aryeh Klein in the detainment camp in Cyprus A chess set made by Yisrael & Yitzhak Roth and Aryeh Klein in the detainment camp in CyprusA chess set made by Yisrael & Yitzhak Roth and Aryeh Klein in the detainment camp in Cyprus Lathe made by Yisrael Roth in the detainment camp in Cyprus that was used to mass- produce chess piecesLathe made by Yisrael Roth in the detainment camp in Cyprus that was used to mass- produce chess pieces Yisrael and Yitzhak Roth carving the chess pieces on the lathe that Yisrael built in the detainment camp in CyprusYisrael and Yitzhak Roth carving the chess pieces on the lathe that Yisrael built in the detainment camp in Cyprus Aryeh Klein carving the chess pieces in front of his tent in the detainment camp in CyprusAryeh Klein carving the chess pieces in front of his tent in the detainment camp in Cyprus

After the war,  brothers Yisrael and Yitzhak Roth and their cousin Aryeh Klein, Hungarian survivors, decided to make their way illegally to Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine) together with members of their Hachshara (pioneer training) group  from the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement.  They sailed together on the ship Knesset Israel, but the ship was caught by the British, and its passengers deported to detainment camps in Cyprus.

The Hashomer Hatzair group stayed together in the camp and maintained their social and ideological framework, hoping to eventually fulfill their dream of being pioneers in Eretz Israel.

The period of forced inactivity and uncertainty regarding the future, as well as the poor conditions in the camp, motivated the three to find ways to improve the daily life of the people in their group. They managed by unorthodox means to collect tools and secretly cobble together a shower that siphoned off fresh water. They also built a large oven for their group's kitchen. To fill their leisure time they built a zip-line and organized volleyball games.

One of their fellow detainees, a chess expert, began to teach the others how to play, and some of the youths started to carve chess pieces from the local limestone that was strewn throughout the area. Yisrael Roth came up with the idea of building a lathe that would enable them to mass produce various items. He obtained a pair of skates from someone and used his mechanical skills to build a lathe with the blades. 

With the creation of the lathe they began to mass produce wooden chess sets. Yisrael made the pieces with the lathe, Aryeh carved the more intricate details and Isaac made hinged boxes that opened into chess boards. The three proceeded to sell the chess sets to the Jewish Agency representatives in the camp who sold them to other detainees and to the British soldiers who bought the games and sent them home as gifts. The group's joint kitty filled with funds that enabled them to buy better food.

When the three were finally allowed to sail to the new State of Israel, the group established Kibbutz Beit Kama in the Negev. Aryeh Klein kept one of the chess sets that they had made in the camp and Yisrael Roth kept the lathe.

Yad Vashem Artifacts Collection
Chess set - Donated by Aryeh Klein, Israel
Lathe -  Donated by Yisrael Roth, Israel