It was snowing on Feb. 24, 1944, when Jewish children in the French town of Gemeaux were rounded up at their school. Two sisters, Denise and Micheline Lévy, aged 10 and 9, clutched dolls—one pink, one blue—as they were led away to Auschwitz. A gendarme grabbed the dolls and flung them to the ground, Le Parisien reports, via the Telegraph. A shopkeeper picked them up and gave them to the grandmother of Frédérique Gilles, a 38-year-old schoolteacher, who has now donated them to the Shoah Memorial, the Holocaust museum in Paris. The dolls were among 200 items put on display Sunday, out of 19,000 objects collected by volunteers. In many cases like the Lévy sisters, they are all that remain of the deported. For two generations, Gilles' family minded the dolls. "But nobody ever played with them," she told the paper. "We knew their history."
They tried to find out what happened to the Lévy sisters, but turned up no clues. Gilles said it seemed wrong to keep the dolls. "We wanted to give them to a museum, or a place of memorial." It was difficult to let them go, she added, "but it was the best thing we could do for the memory of those little girls." Over the past two years, volunteers for the Shoah Memorial criss-crossed France collecting a trove of objects belonging to those deported, including photos, a jersey emblazoned with a Star of David, a violin case, and fading slips of paper noting the Jews in hiding stacked in a little red box, reports Telerama. "Some preferred that we borrow the objects … so they could pass them on to their children," Shoah curator Lior Lalieu-Smadja told Telerama. "We understand their choice but, unfortunately, we know that quite often this evidence will be lost."