HOUSTON, TX (June 3, 2005) - The dire conditions of the World War II concentration camps would not evoke images of laughter and children playing in most minds, but a new exhibit at Holocaust Museum Houston serves to document the enduring spirit of youngsters who found a way to entertain themselves and strive toward happiness despite the hardships of their conditions.
A 1943 handcrafted children's game inspired by the popular Monopoly (TM) board game will go on display at the Museum on June 15, 2005 along with other artifacts from the Theresienstadt camp (Terezin) in Czechoslovakia, where Adolf Hitler sent many artists and other creative people deemed undesirable by the Nazi regime.
The free exhibit will be the first time the game piece has been displayed outside Israel.
The exhibition is being staged in conjunction with the Houston Grand Opera's production of Brundibár, a children's opera that was first performed in 1943 by children of the same camp. The 35-minute opera was written by Hans Krása, who himself was a prisoner in the camp. It was performed there more than 50 times before Krása was moved to Auschwitz, where he was killed in 1944. Brundibár became a symbol of hope to the Theresienstadt inmates because of its message of friendship and good triumphing over evil in the story of two children who encounter a bully while trying to buy milk for their sick mother.
The opera will be performed Saturday, June 18 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, June 19 at 2 p.m. at the Heinen Theater on the Houston Community College Campus at 3517 Austin. The 20-member cast is comprised of young singers entering grades 6-12 in fall 2005 and who are participating in the opera's summer camp program.
The children's game was handcrafted in 1943 by artist Oswald Poeck, who worked in the ghetto of the camp and wanted the children there to have some sense of normalcy.
He designed the game from his memory of the Monopoly board game, naming landmarks on the board after landmarks in the camp. After buying a property, an "investor" could increase the value of a building by buying a "kumbal" instead of houses and hotels. A "kumbal" was a covered attic made available to some prisoners in the camps and often served as a secret meeting place for lovers.
The ghetto currency, known as "kronen," was used as money in the game since it was otherwise worthless. The center of the board is a blueprint of the ghetto area, showing rows of barracks where 50,000 Jews were squeezed into living quarters meant to hold only 7,000 people.
Poeck himself was sent from Theresienstadt to Birkenau on Sept. 29, 1944 and was immediately killed in the Nazi gas chambers, but his game was handed down from one prisoner to another as children died or were taken to other camps. It eventually passed down to Micha and Dan Glass, who took it with them when they left the camp in 1945.
Micha arrived at the ghetto with his mother Frantiska and younger brother Dan in the spring of 1942 after their father was killed while fighting with the Czech underground.
"Our friends were constantly changing," Micha once said. "Only after the war did I fully understand why there were always old friends leaving and new ones coming."
The brothers moved to Israel with their mother in 1949 and are now successful businessmen, with Micha living in Jerusalem and Dan in Givatayim.
The game board is on special loan to Holocaust Museum Houston from Beit Terezin, which is located in Israel and incorporates a museum, archives and an educational center in memory of the martyrs of Theresienstadt.
The piece will remain on display in Houston through Sunday, Aug. 28, 2005 along with other artifacts from the camp such as poems written by children there, samples of ghetto currency and worker identification cards for Houstonians who once were held at the camp.
Brundibár is supported by a gift from the Stanford and Joan Alexander Foundation.
For information on the performances and tickets to Brundibár, contact Tanieka Blackmon at 713-546-0230, or e-mail at email@example.com.
Holocaust Museum Houston promotes awareness and educates the public of the dangers of prejudice, hatred and violence against the backdrop of the Holocaust by fostering remembrance, understanding and education. Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston's Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004.
For more information about Holocaust Museum Houston, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.
Monopoly (TM) is a registered trademark of Hasbro.