Needle felted Rabbits; Teaching History with Puppets

needle felted puppets
Needle felted puppets: Three bunnies?

When I first made my Easter puppets, I set them up to look at them as I always do, to see/feel if they were finished or if they needed a little something extra. Many things came to my mind, the first being that the chick, so different from the bunnies wanted to fit in with the crowd, so I needle felted the chick a bunny hat. Now the chick looks like his friends, more or less. This reminds me of my girls, dressing in “IN” clothes and having the right shoes or accessories to be in style. It also reminds me of myself  in college, I usually dressed “artsy” or differently as a statement of individuality. The chick dressed as a rabbit struck me as sad; I felt sorry that he needed to be like the others.

needle felted puppets as teaching tools
Needle felted chick puppet: in disguise

 After my thoughts of “fitting in” and my musings over my slightly humorous photo of “three rabbits” had passed, my light-hearted Easter puppets moved in a more somber direction, a different idea came to me. What if the chick needed to pass for a rabbit, what if he is in disguise, a disguise to save his life? 

hidden children of WWII
Needle felted puppet: Jewish chick

In 1940, my mother-in-law was 12 years old and her parents sent her to live with a family, in a small village outside of her town of Krakow, Poland. She was to live as a Christian because she was/is a Jew; later in history, we refer to the “hidden children” of WWII as those living with a different identity, different names, in foreign towns and with people who were not always a part of their family. These children were hiding from Nazis or in the case of Poland, they were hiding from every day Polish citizens who would turn them into the Nazis, who would kill them. The little girl (my mother- in- law) was given a different (Christian) name and she needed to be careful to answer to it when called, she remembers going to church and tells of how much she loved the stained glass windows. Luckily for my mother- in- law, she had white-blond hair as a little girl and big blue eyes, she easily passed for a Christian child in 1940. I can’t imagine the trauma of sending a child away to save their life or the trauma the child must have felt living away from the family; I have a 12 year old daughter now. I imagine my mother-in-law’s parents were grateful beyond words that they had found someone who would take their daughter in (I’m wondering if they paid the family to take her in). The people who took in my mother-in-law were helping to save her life, but the lady of the house wasn’t very nice to her and she used her as a maid. The man of the house noticed that the little girl read a lot, so he started to cut out all the articles related to the war and what was happening to the Jews from the newspaper. He told her this after the war, he said he cut out the articles so she would worry less. He told her he always knew she was a Jew because of how much she read (sterio-type?). She lived in hiding (as a chick amongst rabbits) for about a year and a half. We don’t know a lot of details from the war time about my mother-in-law’s life because she can’t bring herself to talk about it. She says after she talks about this time in her life, she can’t sleep for weeks afterwards, so we don’t ask a lot. Sometimes after a few glasses of wine at dinner, she starts to talk about the war and this is the time that we listen very intently, to hear her fascinating, heart-breaking story. She moved on from the small village and continued her journey through the war with her brother who had been in hiding in another town, working and living on a farm. The brother and sister never saw their parents nor their home again and from the stranger’s homes from which they worked, they moved on to live in the forest, accompanying and fighting with the Polish partisans….