This past week as we participated in virtual forums with the reading of the names of Holocaust victims, we were again reminded of the importance of the act of simply remembering. To remember is to bear witness, to acknowledge the evil that was allowed to escalate, and to honor those that died and those that survived.
Something as vast and painful as the Holocaust can be difficult for kids to comprehend. In all honesty, the sheer scale of brutality, loss, and terror can be difficult for fully-developed adult minds to take in. When we have the opportunity to connect to the individual stories, to the faces and names and humanity within the sweeping historical narrative, we have a chance to bring history home in a personal way.
That’s why we really love the Butterfly Project, created by the Holocaust Museum Houston. Inspired by a poem written by Pavel Friedmann, the butterflies symbolize the beauty and innocence of childhood, as well as its fragility in the face of hatred and violence.
The Holocaust Museum Houston "...designed The Butterfly Project to connect a new generation of children to the children who perished in the Nazi era." Complete with a curriculum and lesson plan to assist educators in teaching Holocaust history to students, this project became about so much more. It became a symbol of hope.
The lesson plan includes having each student decorate a butterfly, with the name and story of a real child who lived during the Holocaust. The butterflies would hang around the room, and the children would check on them each day as they entered the classroom. During the course of the week, the teacher would remove butterflies to symbolize the random, painful destruction of tender lives. Students often react with feelings of anger and confusion, as they realize these faces and stories they have connected to died.
We encourage you to visit the Holocaust Museum Houston’s website and participate in the project by creating your own butterfly (digitally), making a wish, or downloading the lesson plan to use with your kids.
You can read about the project and access the other materials here.
We’d like to share with you the poem that inspired the project. Pavel Friedmann wrote it while living in the Terezin concentration camp, before being transferred to Auschwitz concentration camp where he ultimately died in 1944.
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone….
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished
to kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live here,
in the ghetto.
- Pavel Friedmann, June 4, 1942
Friedmann’s poem is published in the book “I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942– 1944.”