• Chess set, installation photograph, 2019
    Photographed by Tessa Coutu, July 2019

Chess set

Museum Work

Resource TypeObjects
Date of Creationcirca 1942
GenreDaily Life & Household
Sports & Recreation
Object ID2018.010.001
CreatorUnknown, believed to be the work of Polish Jewish man interned in the Warsaw ghetto
Place of CreationUnknown, likely Poland
DescriptionThirty-two-piece chess set in two colours, representing the Ottoman Turks and Poles.
Materials/Techniqueschewed bread, bread dough and sawdust over metal wire frame; paint and varnish
Measurementspieces range from 5.3 cm to 9.5 cm high
Method of ConstructionIn 1994, the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem sent the chess set for chemical analysis to the Canadian Conservation Institute. This analysis confirmed that the chess pieces where made of bread, uncooked dough, and saliva. The bread contained traces of sawdust from a type of pine tree commonly found in Eastern Europe.

The material may be similar to Elastolin, a cellulose-based composition, mostly known to be used by the German toy company Hausser used in the manufacturing toy figurines in the early 20th century. The figurines are constructed out of a similar wire base and the shrinking and cracking is typical for Elastolin of this age.
ProvenanceGifted to the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre in 2018 by Dr. Robert Krell. 

In 2000, Dr. Krell purchased the chess set from Rovina Nagel, daughter of Rosa Nagel. Rosa received the set in Vienna in the fall of 1946 as a gift from a German soldier after she had given him food and shelter on his way to the American sector of the city where he planned to surrender. The soldier is believed to have acquired the chess set while stationed as a guard in the Warsaw ghetto; it may have been offered to him as a bribe.

Rosa brought the chess set with her to Canada when she immigrated in 1969, living first in Montreal and then in Vancouver from 1976. Nagel shared her story of the chess set in several interviews for the Montreal Star in 1970 and 1971, Le Petit Journal and the Telegram Weekend Magazine in 1971, La Presse in 1972, the Toronto Jewish Press in 1973 and the Province in 1980. 

Although the provenance of this set cannot be verified with certainty, efforts have been made to confirm its authenticity. A research file is available for consultation upon request. 
Classificationchess sets
Legal Statuspermanent collection
NoteExtensive research file is available including an independent materials analysis from 1970, a Canadian Conservation Institute materials analysis report from 1994 and a donor interview video recording.