Children and Play in the Holocaust: Games among the Shadows

Children and Play in the Holocaust: Games among the Shadows

Children and Play in the Holocaust: Games among the Shadows

Children and Play in the Holocaust: Games among the Shadows

Excerpt

Occasionally an accident of research produces a book more engaging than the one the historian originally intended. While shifting through material for my Ph.D. dissertation, which dealt with an entirely different topic, I came across a diary from the Vilna ghetto written by Zelig Kalmanovitch. His tone was sober, but not entirely so. The passage that caught my eye concerned a playground erected around 1942 and the author's inner conflict surrounding the coexistence of games and sports and mass murder in the ghetto. In retrospect, it was quite a find, for this paragraph propelled me to look for a new dimension to the tragedy of children during the Holocaust. The Holocaust was not an unfamiliar subject to me. I grew up with its stories, but the tales of pain, suffering, death, and the fight for survival were not particularly frightening at the time. Rather, they captivated and puzzled me. I faced them with incomprehension -- a sort of disbelief.

It never before dawned upon me that by being born during the Holocaust I was also a part of its history. While I was growing up, this fact seemed to possess neither special significance nor did it impart a sense of uniqueness to me. Yet in the background, in the corners of my mind, there was always a multitude of questions. Where they raised because of the painful absence of grandparents, uncles, cousins, and other relatives? Looking around me, I remember how much I missed them as a child. Maybe it was the tales my father and mother told about survival and death on the streets of wartime Budapest and in the concentration camp of Mauthausen. Perhaps it was the story of my brother who as a twelve-year old boy had the courage to jump . . .

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