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Yad Vashem No Child's Play

"No Child's Play"

This exhibition derives its name from an excerpt from Janusz Korczak’s “Rules of Life”, A Childhood of Dignity:

Janusz Korczak
“ It is not proper to be ashamed of any game. This is no child’s play. It is wrong for adults to say - and for the more intelligent of the children to repeat after them ‘Such a big boy and he plays like a baby; such a big girl and she still plays with dolls.’ What matters is not what one plays with, but rather how and what one thinks and feels while playing. One can play wisely with a doll or play childishly and foolishly at chess. One can play with great interest and imagination at being a policeman, making a train, being a hunter or an Indian, and one can read books without any thought or interest.”

Approximately one and a half million of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust were children. The number of children who survived is estimated in the mere thousands.

This exhibition opens a window into the world of children during the Shoah. Unlike other Holocaust exhibitions, it does not focus on history, statistics or descriptions of physical violence. Instead, the toys, games, artwork, diaries, and poems displayed here highlight some of the personal stories of the children, providing a glimpse into their lives during the Holocaust.

Dolls and teddy bears became integral parts of the lives of the children they belonged to during the war. In many cases, they  accompanied them throughout the war and were a primary source of comfort and companionship. For some children, the teddy bears and dolls were the most significant possessions left with them at the end of the war. Even today, as adults, their attachment is so great that they have difficulty separating from them.

The exhibition tells the story of survival - the struggle of these children to hold on to life. It describes their attempts to maintain their childhood and youth by creating for themselves a different reality from that which surrounded them. In many cases, it was the children who gave their parents the encouragement and hope to continue their desperate daily fight for survival.

“In embarking upon research for this exhibition, we thought that our findings would be limited to the children’s moments of comfort or consolation. Now we have learned that far more was involved. Fantasy, creativity, and play were the manifestations of a basic instinct for survival, a prerequisite for life in this context. Korczak’s claim “No Child’s Play” has been proven irrefutably correct.” (Yehudit Inbar, Curator)

Written and Edited by: Yehudit Inbar