Six-year-old Heinrich and David were best friends and neighbors during World War II. It was 1942 and Nazi Germany was determined in its efforts to wipe out the Jewish race, rounding up Jews and sending them to concentration camps by the trainload.
David’s family was Jewish and it wasn’t long before they were subjected to the same fate as other Jews in Nazi Germany. In order to protect little Heinrich from the awful truth, his mother told him that David was going to a magical place, Toy Island, where he would play all day long. She didn’t want him to know that in reality, it would be a concentration camp with gas chambers and a crematorium that would be the family’s probable fate.
Heinrich was entranced with his mother’s depiction of a wonderland full of toys that sounded much more exciting than his boring life at home. He was determined to follow his friend so they could play together and have endless fun.
The next morning, Heinrich’s mother couldn’t find him anywhere. She knew straight away that he had followed David as he had been so excited by the idea of Toy Island. She knew what would happen to him if he was on that train and made her way to the station in a desperate attempt to stop the unthinkable. As soon as they understood the situation, two Nazi soldiers took her to the train to find her son.
They opened the door of the carriage that contained David’s family. She called out for Heinrich, only to find he wasn’t with them. She knew that if he wasn’t with them, he was not on the train at all as he would not have left his friend’s side.
Mother saves boy in Nazi Germany from certain death
Straight away, she recognized this as an opportunity to save David from an awful fate, but could she do it? Could she pull off such a daring deception right under the noses of the Nazis? The two mothers gazed at one another, one silently begging, one offering reassurance as Heinrich’s mother said to David: “Come on Heinrich, it’s time to go home.”
David’s parents pushed him forward firmly and quickly, not giving him a chance to question what was happening. Heinrich’s mother took his hand firmly and walked him home, right past the Nazi soldiers.
So where was Heinrich? He was sent home by the Nazis when they arrived to collect David and his parents as they knew that the family only had one child. His mother was so relieved when she returned home with David as she had rescued one child from death and her own child was safe at home.
The opportunity to rescue David was so fleeting, so fraught with risks that it was down to the quick realization and fast thinking of the parents that enabled the rescue, plus luck that the Nazis didn’t ask to verify his identity papers.
If Heinrich’s mother had been caught trying to help David, she would have been on the train to the camp as well, or else executed, as it was a crime to hide Jews in Nazi Germany and the Nazi’s were merciless when it came to punishing those who tried to help them.
She was well aware of the consequences of her actions, but her kindness and integrity were stronger than her fear and her natural instincts won out. Her calmness, courage, and wisdom are still inspirational today — her story was made into a film entitled Toyland, which won the Oscar for Best Short Feature Film in 2009.
Watch the short feature film Toyland: