They clung to them through the hardest days and nights, the most frightening moments, the most scarring seconds – teddy bears, dolls, anything they could play with. And now, these toys, which once belonged to Jewish children during the Holocaust, are part of a special exhibition at Yad Vashem – and it's hard to hold back one's tears.
The exhibition, entitled "Children in the Holocaust: Stars Without a Heaven," opens a window into the world of the approximately one and a half million children murdered in the Holocaust by highlighting some of their personal stories through the toys on display, together with games, artwork, diaries and poems. Many of the items' original owners are no longer alive.
According to Yehudit Inbar, the exhibition's curator and director of Yad Vashem's Museums Division, "Children in the Holocaust: Stars Without a Heaven" tells the story of survival, of the children's struggle to hold on to life and try to maintain their childhood and youth by creating a different reality for themselves.
"The children's childhood was cut short by the Holocaust; and in many instances, they provided for their families and encouraged their parents in the desperate struggle for survival," Inbar said.
"Yet they still remained children, and played and laughed and created and expressed their fears and their hopes whenever they could.
"The drawings, diaries, poems, music, letters and toys offer a moving and fascinating look at childhood in the shadow of the Holocaust," Inbar continued.
"Fantasy, creativity, and play were the manifestations of a basic instinct for survival, a prerequisite for life in this context."