Upon entering the room, there is a striking burst of color—dreamy blue skies, the bright red rooftop of a church atop a hillside, a young couple standing along a road holding hands, gazing at one another. Delicate pencil etchings of tiny figures and a horse’s face cast a sweet shadow in an otherwise sullen corridor. The sun shines through the elongated windows, peering through the massive opaque drawings. In the hushed room with wooden benches, the illuminated artwork resembles stained glass, evoking the feeling of being inside a cathedral rather than a museum. There, in the beauty and stillness, there is a similar sanctity.
But the faces of the people are streaked with crimson blood, and scrawled next to the horse’s head is the name Terezin. Terezin, the ghetto-turned-concentration camp where nearly 15,000 Jewish Czech children lost their lives, as well as tens of thousands of adults. These are not the whimsical sketches of daydreaming children. They are haunting reminders of the spirit of young prisoners, clinging to life as it is ripped out from under their feet.
These vibrant murals are a welcome juxtaposition against the bleak, black-and-white photos of dirty, sullen faces and skeletal bodies barricaded behind barbed wire fences that adorn the rest of the halls. But the miserable faces of stolen youth across the room cannot be ignored either. The museum’s fourth gallery focuses on the children of the Holocaust, many of whom were murdered, transported or hidden. This gallery honors the children who were lost, and preserves the stories of those who survived.
When people envision children of the Holocaust, they think of one child in particular: Annelies Marie Frank. A childhood heroine, her words have inspired millions and kept the legacy of the Holocaust alive in thousands of classrooms for almost half a century.
But she was not alone.
One-and-a-half million children perished in the Holocaust. Most were murdered immediately upon entering concentration camps, as they were deemed useless and weak. Those who were old enough to work or lied about their age were stripped of their identity and any trace that remained of their childhood. They were now slaves to the Nazis, struggling every day just to stay alive. Unlike Anne Frank, their stories were never told, and their immense suffering went unnoticed. Until now.
Anita Weisbord considers herself lucky. She was not banished to a concentration camp. She was not murdered, like so many other children. She was fed, she learned, she grew up to be an adult, she raised a family, she survived.
And while she is grateful for the life she has had in the wake of the Holocaust, the scars of the things that were taken from her remain.
“Overnight you became a different person. Within 24 hours, everything changed,” says Weisbord, referring to the night of Nov. 10, 1938. Notoriously known as Kristallnacht, it was a night filled with a parade of destruction and hatred throughout Nazi Germany and Weisbord’s homeland of Austria. It also marked the night that the Third Reich’s reign took a violent turn. It was a night that changed the world, and transformed Weisbord’s life irrevocably. “Overnight, that was the end of my childhood,” she says.
Following the downward spiral after Kristallnacht, Weisbord’s mother arranged for her to be shipped to England via Kindertransport—a train system implemented by England to remove children under the age of 17 from the Nazis and grant them safe haven. Weisbord, armed with only one suitcase, left her friends and family at the age of 15.
Despite being torn from her family, not knowing where their fates lie, and being shipped to a country without a single familiar face and a foreign tongue, she could not conceive the possibility of giving up. “All I thought was, ‘You’re young. You have to make a life,’” says Weisbord.
She recalls hearing many of the children joyfully singing “A Beautiful Vienna” as they made their way across Europe aboard the Kindertransport. They were not worried about their lives or their disparate families, just happy to be alive. “When you’re young, you have resilience. You wonder, ‘Where will I go, what lies ahead of me?’…You don’t think, ‘Where will I sleep? Who will take care of me? Will I ever see my family again?’”
Weisbord started a new life in England, as she learned English and even met a young man, who is now her husband. Throughout this time, she remained grateful to her mother for making the difficult decision to send her off. “I believe my mother gave birth to me twice,” Weisbord says. “Once when I was born, and again when she found the courage to put me on that train.”
That train, which altered Weisbord’s life and paved the way for her future, is among the hundreds of little-known facts about the Holocaust. It took Weisbord and many other survivors decades to talk about what they went through during those years. Millions of stories remain untold.
While Weisbord admits that the story of the Kindertransport does not match the horror of the other key moments in the Holocaust, she insisted that it have its place on the wall of the museum. “It happened. It is a piece of history,” she says.
The legacy of the Kindertransport and the lives it saved is now enshrined in the museum. Children who visit, like Weisbord’s grandchildren, who were inspired by their grandmother to teach other children about the Holocaust, will become more deeply engaged in its history. They will remember the lives that were lost and those that were saved, often through the kindness of strangers.
“I always felt, ‘Why my life?’” says Weisbord. “One-point-five million children perished [in the Holocaust]. There must be a reason why I lived. And being a docent here, teaching children, it is my mission.”
On the wall of the room, in front of a large photograph of young prisoners, it is written that: “The Nazis saw Jewish children as a special threat because they represented future generations.” What the Nazis once feared now provides the strongest hope for the survivors and the museum. These future generations are going to keep these stories and lessons alive long after the survivors are gone.
“I try to make [the kids] feel like they have a mission,” says Weisbord. “That what happened during the Holocaust should never ever happen to a child again.”