Zeev Portenoy was nine when the Nazis invaded Tuchin, his Ukrainian hometown, in 1941, forcing his family and the other Jews into a ghetto while he went on the run.
For the next four years, he wandered aimlessly around the countryside, pretending to be Ukrainian or Polish just to survive. He knew he was Jewish but just didn’t understand why everyone wanted to kill him, writing down his experiences in a song.
Now in his 80s, his voice breaks as he sings the words he wrote as a child: “I was still a small lad / when the Nazi beast / took over my life / And took me away from / My parents forever.”
He survived the genocide. But 1.5 million other Jewish children did not.
Their stories are the focus of a new exhibition at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, which opened ahead Israel’s Holocaust memorial day which starts at sunset on Wednesday, reports AFP.
Entitled “Stars Without A Heaven” the exhibit gives expression to the lives of children during the Holocaust through a “symbolic forest” of 33 pillars, with each bearing a different personal story along with pictures and testimonies, but also small sculptures and short animated clips that illustrate lives where no memento remained.
“The world of the child, the humanity which is expressed through their creativity, their thoughts, is this forest…a forest of young souls,” said Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev.
Yehudit Inbar, the exhibition’s curator, said there were very few mementos of the lives of the 1.5 million who perished – about the same as the number of children living in Israel today.
“If the adults thought they understood what was happening, the children didn’t understand the situation at all,” she said.
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