Oh, You Beautiful Dolls
Ricky Ian Gordon
At The Movies:
Healthy And Satisfying
Making dolls for the Nazis saved Holocaust
survivor Magda Watts' life; now she places
her creations into scenes of Jewish life.
Special to the Jewish News
arvin Yagoda has all kinds of dolls to show
at his Marvelous Mechanical Museum in
West Bloomfield, but there's one group
he's restricting to more serious venues.
The group, created by Magda Watts in Israel, presents
dolls in settings also constructed by the artist, whose work
sometimes recalls living in European shtetls and other
times captures activities of the 21st century.
Yagoda spotted the figures during a trip to Israel and
bought about 15 for a personal collection. He recently
got the idea for an exhibit and contacted the Janice
Charach Epstein Gallery in West Bloomfield.
"The Dolls of Magda Watts," on display Feb. 5-
March 25, include a Hebrew class, a tailor at work,
musicians on stage and women playing cards. Watts
began making imaginative figures while a teen in slave
labor during the Holocaust and traded them for food as
a means of survival. After years of raising her family in
Israel, she returned to her artistry as an enjoyable,
"I loved the dolls immediately," says Yagoda, who
first noticed them in an art store window. "They have a
warmth that's very special and seem to tell stories as
you look at them. Learning the artist's story is even
Watts, born in . Hungary, was 15 when she was sepa-
rated from most of her family and confined to a work
camp in Nuremberg. Using her artistic instincts to avoid
feeling completely alone, she used ragged parts of her
explained that he's a doctor, so I will show his work
through other pieces that will go with the doll."
clothing and scraps to make herself a doll.
Watts uses ceramic materials for each head,
During the distribution of food, Watts showed the
Styrofoam for the bodies and wire
doll to her supervisor and asked for
additional rations, ultimately giving
cores so parts of the bodies can be
up what she had made for a meager
moved. She designs and sews all the
clothes. She also plans and builds the
portion of soup. Impressed with her
items needed to complete the scenes.
artistry, Watts' Nazi keepers provided
Filmmaker Jennifer Resnick, doing
materials for more dolls made for
research for the Central Agency for
them specifically and gave her more
Jewish Education in Miami, learned
food to keep up her energy to corn-
about Watts. Resnick was so intrigued
plete her projects.
that she raised funds and made the
Finally freed from her captors in
movie Liberation of the Spirit: The
post-war Europe, Watts fended for
Journey of Magda Watts in 1996.
herself through Hungary, Austria
The documentary will be shown 7:30
and Germany. She married, had a
p.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, in. the Janice
son and moved to Israel, where she
Charach Epstein Gallery. The film offers
gave birth to a daughter.
Magda Watts: "I love what I do."
insight into the perilous life of the artist
There would be no more dolls
and the development of her craft.
until 1983, after a visit to her home-
"The manuscript [upon which the film is based] was
land. The horrific memories that filled her head sent
written in Hungarian [by Magda] and translated into
her looking for release, and she found that in making
English," recalls Resnick, who teaches filmmaking at a
Florida high school. "I spent two years raising funds for
"I love what I do," says Watts, who works in a home
the project, which followed Magda on a return trip to
studio. "Sometimes, I feel like a small child playing
Hungary and Poland and then back to Israel.
with dolls, although I'm also thinking about the money
"When we conceptualized the film, we were inspired by
these will make:
Magda's spirit. When we took her back to Europe, she
"I've had big exhibitions and soon will have one in
found her sister and felt reborn. The story was very moving,
Budapest. I also make dolls on request.
and it has been shown on the Public Broadcasting System.
"Yesterday, a woman brought me a picture of her
husband so I could make a doll that looks like him. She
DOLLS on page 38