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The Man Who Taught America To Play Image Credit: Newsweek
The Man Who Taught America To Play Image Credit: Newsweek

The Man Who Taught America To Play

The Nazis killed his parents, and three years in a concentration camps almost killed his spirit, but when henry Orenstein created some of the world’s most popular toys, he proved that playing well is the best revenge.

Abigail Jones

HENRY ORENSTEIN was standing outside his concentration camp barracks, shivering, when the amplified voice of his salvation cut through the frigid air: “All Jewish scientists, engineers, inventors, chemists and mathematicians must register immediately.” It was January 1944, and his fellow prisoners were suffering and dying all around him beaten during morning roll call for standing half a step out of line; hanged for trying to escape; shot in the head just because. Orenstein had just endured the latest perverse humiliation perpetrated by the SS guards, who had chased 400 wet, naked prisoners from the shower house out into the snow, then pummelled the frozen men as they climbed back inside, one by one, through a small window.

The voice blared out again: “All Jewish scientists, engineers, inventors, chemists and mathematicians must register immediately.”

What could this mean? Orenstein had heard rumors of evacuations and mass liquidations. What were the Nazis planning to do with these highly educated Jews? Experiment on them? Kill them first? He and his siblings (three brothers and a sister) were prisoners at Budzyn, a German labor camp near Krasnik, Poland, and he’d kept himself alive in the years leading up to the war by making insane, desperate bets on the


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