Bringing to Life the Children’s Tree of Terezin

An undergraduate student uses the Gideon Klein Award to create an educational animated project

By Yael Sheinfeld, 2019-2020 Gideon Klein Scholar.

For my Gideon Klein presentation, I am creating an animated short centered around the children’s book The Children’s Tree of Terezin [for more about the Gideon Klein Award, see below this article]. The book, written by Dede Harris, holds special meaning to me — Dede is the wife of Sam Harris, a well-known Holocaust survivor, and my great-grandfather’s first cousin. While Sam traveled to the United States upon liberation in 1948, my great-grandfather moved to Israel and started a family there. Sam and Dede are among the few of my relatives that live in the United States — further, they are my connection to my great-grandfather, who passed away when I was 13. The Children’s Tree of Terezin is, for me, more than just an inspirational story of hope and humanity — it is a family artifact.

Image from the animated film.

To produce the animation, I’m working closely with Bea Tolan, an Animation student at Northeastern, who is bringing the story to life through animation of the existing illustrations and original artwork. Throughout fall 2019 and the early months of the spring 2020 semester, I conducted a filmed interview with the book’s author and illustrator team to accompany the animated short. I oversaw animation progress, recorded final narration, and compiled additional materials to include within the film.

Image from the animated film.

With Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week postponed to the fall semester, I’ve taken the opportunity to expand the scope of my project. I continue to meet with our animator (virtually), as we add complex artistic elements that we otherwise would not have had time to include. I’m in communication with Cantor Simon, the cantor at Dede Harris’ synagogue in the suburbs of Chicago, who wrote a song based off of the book — he is in the process of recording instrumental pieces for us to weave throughout the film. I’m taking this opportunity to do extensive research into Harris’ characters, pulling real photographs from the places and events mentioned in the book to include in the film. 

While it was disappointing to learn that I would not be presenting my animation this Spring, I’m grateful for the gift of additional time to further expand my project. I’m looking forward to presenting my work in the Fall semester!

Yael Sheinfeld is a fourth-year Communications major with minors in Political Science and English. She is currently co-opping as Communications Director on a Congressional campaign in Massachusetts’ 4th District.

About the Gideon Klein Award

The Gideon Klein Award is a given annually to a Northteastern or Hebrew College student to create an original work of art, prepare a performance, or conduct research related to music or musicians of the Holocaust. The Gideon Klein Scholar also offers a public presentation at Northeastern during Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week and archives the project on the Jewish Studies website. This award honors the memory of Gideon Klein, pianist and composer, who was imprisoned in Terezin and other concentration camps until his death in 1945. While in Terezin, Klein inspired other musicians to compose and share their music with others in most difficult circumstances. The award was established in 1997 by Prof. Bill Giessen in memory of his mother, Gustel Cormann Giessen.

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