After Ivan Moscovich was liberated from the Bergen-Belsen Nazi death camp 75 years ago, he found his escape in "becoming a workaholic and choosing to be creative." He was honored for seven decades of innovation in the toy and game industry at the Chicago Toy & Game Week in November with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
"Ivan was long overdue on being selected due to his incredible success in the toy, game and puzzle industry," said Mary Couzin, CEO and founder of Chicago Toy & Game, an organization that promotes the industry. "His longevity, high achievement outside our industry, and the adversity he faced made him a further standout. It was our honor to honor Ivan."
"His achievements are remarkable considering his history," added Robert Fuhrer, founder and president of Nextoy LLC.
After surviving Auschwitz and two other concentration camps, plus two forced labor camps, Moscovich invented 111 games, including many milestones in puzzles and recreational mathematics. He has written over 50 puzzle books tackling mathematical problems.
His first game, The Amazing Magic Robot, was based on a challenge from Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdos, He also spent five years working with Mattel's Jewish founders (and Barbie's "parents") Elliot and Ruth Handler in the 1960s.
, details his family's struggles in the Holocaust and his success in the years since.
"I like that the whole book isn't about the war because that's not all that defines him," said Moscovich's granddaughter Emilia, who traveled to Chicago with him for the award ceremony.
His memoir begins by detailing his family's history, including his father's murder in the Novi Sad Raid in 1942 and his time in the camps. It then moves on to his studies in technical school and his innovation of a rail-welding project.
After immigrating to Israel, he was tasked with creating scientific educational curricula. This work led to his creation of the first hands-on science museum in Tel Aviv in the 1960s, which later inspired San Francisco's Exploratorium.
Moscovich found a way to combine his passions for science and art when he saw a toy called a harmonograph at the Toronto Science Museum and designed a larger version. Since 1965, he has created hundreds of unique "harmonograms" and became known as the first cybernetic artist, with successful exhibitions in Los Angeles, Mexico, Switzerland, London, and more.
"[My achievement] was a direct consequence of trauma in the camps - every survivor finds one way or another in order to forget the 100 percent thinking about Auschwitz," Moscovich said. He recalled the obituary of Holocaust survivor Primo Levi, who took his own life, which said that Levi had died in Auschwitz 40 years before. "I may have been in the line of him, if I hadn't chosen my escape of my mind," Moscovich said.
Now 94 years old, he continues to "take revenge on the Nazi murderers through a long period of achievement and creativity" with new games, books, and art while spending time with his wife Anitta, daughter Hila and granddaughter Emilia.
"I'm so glad to be in Chicago," Moscovich said prior to receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award. "I achieved nearly everything but the lifetime achievement award, now getting that-- which is unbelievable-- I can say I achieved everything I could have possibly achieved."