I recently saw an interesting article from the Associated Press on Yahoo! News. It was about researchers scanning two dolls from the time of the American Civil War to see if the space in their heads might have been used for smuggling medicine.
Dolls from history appear in children’s fiction much more often than in works of nonfiction. The 1930 Newbery Medal winner Hitty, Her First Hundred Years tells the fictional story of a doll passing through the hands of many owners during different periods of American history. Tatiana Comes to America: An Ellis Island Story is a similar, newer book focused on one doll’s owner.
A few books do tell real stories about real dolls, like
The Silent Witness: A True Story of the Civil War by Robin Friedman. This is not the same Civil War doll story as the article I mentioned above, but the story of a doll present at the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant at the end of America’s Civil War.
I remembered hearing a story about a Holocaust survivor who had owned a doll produced in connection with the 1936 Olympics. I thought it might be
Elisabeth by Claire A. Nivola (who illustrated the Civil War book above), but that didn’t mention the detail about the Olympics.
The Doll With the Yellow Star by Yona Zeldis McDonough.
Once I found an article that mentioned the name of the doll’s owner, Inge Auerbacher, I was able to find more information. I probably first heard of her story a few years ago when a film called The Olympic Doll was released. The film was based on her book, I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust. The doll is just a small detail of her story of suffering and survival.
The first irony that will strike anyone reading or hearing about Ms. Auerbacher’s doll is that the doll itself was meant to promote racist Nazi ideas of what Germans ought to look like. To the little Jewish girl, it was just a well-loved toy.
Another irony might strike readers of the fictional World War II books mentioned above. Both those stories feature girls who were separated from their dolls. In the true story, though it seems like it should have been impossible, the girl was able to keep her doll through the most terrible circumstances.