Through the Lens of History
Mini Exhibits from the Yad Vashem Collections

Toy Boat from Pithiviers

Toy boat sent from the Pithiviers camp to Jean Pojzman in Boulogne-Billancourt, France Esther Pojzman née Rubin and her two children, Jean and Rachel, Paris, June 1942.  The photograph was preserved together with the boat. Reverse side of the photograph – Esther had presumably intended to send it, but it remained in the house.  Little more than two months later, Esther and her two children were no longer alive.

At the height of World War II, ten-year-old Jean Pojzman received an unusual gift – a toy boat, inscribed with the words "Jeannot, Pithiviers 1941 1942".

Jean lived with his widowed mother, Esther and his sister, Rachel in the city of Boulogne-Billancourt, France. The boat, which had been handcrafted out of wood, was sent to Jean from the concentration camp of Pithiviers in France by Esther's partner, who had been arrested and incarcerated in the camp.

Boats like Jean's were made by Pithiviers inmates in the camp's carpentry workshop.  Prisoners were permitted to send letters and parcels to their families, and in this way, artifacts crafted in the camp during this period, such as doll cradles, powder boxes and picture frames were preserved.  The toy boats made at Pithiviers typically had three sections, with a space in the body of the boat for a small electric motor.

It would seem that Jean received the boat shortly before he and his family were evicted from their home.  In August 1942, the French police came to the Pojzman home to arrest Jean's mother, Esther.  Refusing to part with her children, Esther was sent together with Jean and Rachel to the Drancy detention camp.  On 21 August 1942, all three of them were deported to Auschwitz on Convoy #22, and murdered.

A neighbor took the toy boat and some other belongings and photographs, and kept them for the Pojzmans, who he assumed would be returning.  Many years after the war, she gave them to an acquaintance who had survived the Holocaust, Dr. Michel Plaskow, and he in turn donated the artifacts to various museums, in order to perpetuate the memory of the Pojzman family.

The fate of the man who sent Jean the boat from Pithiviers remains a mystery to this day.  The sender, Esther Pojzman's partner (name unknown), was probably arrested in the round-up of 14 May 1941 known as "la rafle du billet vert".  He sent two gifts from Pithiviers: a wooden box for Rachel, which was donated to the Holocaust museum in Paris, and the wooden boat for Jean, donated to the Artifacts Collection at Yad Vashem.