JERUSALEM — Ina Rennert mislaid her best friend Miszou the teddy bear as the German bombs started falling.
Her family was fleeing the Nazis' 1939 invasion of Poland when the road they were traveling came under attack.
“I ran and hid under a tree ... and Miszou was left in the car,” said Rennert, who is now 80. “I cried hysterically and I remember my mom running to the car just to bring me my teddy bear.”
Her family, along with Miszou, escaped death on this occasion but Rennert's father and grandfather were later caught and killed by the Nazis. Rennert eventually moved to Israel from France with her own two children.
Now Miszou — which is showing its age having lost an ear, nose and mouth — is part of the “Stars Without a Heaven: Children in the Holocaust” exhibit in Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Some 70 toys, drawings, diaries and letters help tell the stories of the millions of children who were swept up in the catastrophe.
The experiences of the Holocaust’s children — both the 1.5 million who died as well as those who survived — are essential to understanding the horror that beset so many, Yad Vashem director Avner Shalev said.
“The children in the Holocaust were very vulnerable and first to be attacked,” Shalev told NBC News ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is Thursday. “They [also] symbolize the future and hope of any given community.”
Children's toys not only provided comfort, some allowed their families to survive.
A black-and-white picture of the Schwartz family sits in the center of the exhibit. In it, Claudine stands between her between her parents, Miklosh and Irena, cradling a doll called Collette.
“The doll’s dress is made from one of my mother’s old dresses and the hair was taken from my hair,” she said. Little did four-year-old Claudine know that Collette would help save her family after they were forced to flee Nazi-occupied Paris.
“My mother hid in the doll very valuable stones,” she said. “I never knew the doll had something important inside it and only after the war my mother told me about this.”
Schwartz’s mother sold a precious stone every time the family needed money for food and accommodation on their long journey for survival.
While Schwartz and her parents lived through the war, her grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins died in Nazi concentration camps. In 1970, she and her husband settled in Israel and now have four children and 25 grandchildren.
“It warms my heart to see children looking at my doll here,” Schwartz said. “Especially that we are here in Israel because here we are at home, here nobody can tell us, 'dirty Jew'.”