The Butterfly Project

Last night I attended the opening of The Butterfly Project at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden in Austin, Texas. I was deeply moved by this incredible Holocaust exhibit made by school children in Austin, honoring the memory of the 1.5 million children who were murdered under Nazi rule. My congratulations go out to Beth McDaniel, a member of our Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Committee and coordinator of the project. Below is an explanation of the project. I encourage everyone to visit this moving work of art on display throughout the month of April (another "opening" of the project is April 18, if you want to meet Beth).

Of the thousands of butterflies on display, this one caught my eye and took my breath away:


IN MEMORY OF THE 1.5 MILLION CHILDREN KILLED IN THE HOLOCAUST…thousands of Austin area elementary, middle school and high school students created handmade butterflies as a part of Ballet Austin’s Light/ The Holocaust and Humanity Project.  Each student (4th-12th grade) read a biography such as the ones you see here, on a child who perished at the hands of the Nazis.  The idea was to personalize the victims…for the students to realize that these weren’t just a group of people in a different part of the world in a different time.  But rather, these were individuals, each beautiful and special in their own ways…each with his or her own interests, talents, and life story.  Many of the students came to realize the things they had in common with some of the victims.  The students then designed their butterflies with that child victim in mind.  Then, various classroom conversations ensued on topics such as diversity, tolerance, remembrance and issues relating to contemporary genocide.

Younger children engaged in a “Celebration of Diversity” curriculum, in which students were paired up, and together explored those things they had in common with each other and those things that were different from each other.  Those younger children then designed their butterflies for their partners.

44 Austin schools and organizations participated with a total of more than 10,500 butterflies.  Many students wrote messages to the child.  One school included Six Word Memoirs on the back of each butterfly, such as “You deserved a better life, Judith” or “Fifteen years is way too young” or “I like sports and music too”.  Some schools took the project further by developing other curriculum around the topic.  One school wrote letters to their lawmakers in support of genocide prevention legislation.  Another school recorded a video letter to Congress.  Several of the schools read Elie Weisel’s novel, Night or other Holocaust-related literature.

The construction of the exhibit was also a community-wide collaborative effort.  The project sponsors dedicated their time and donated materials.  Crews of students attached butterflies for several days.  Butterflies were attached with bobby pins to preserve them for their next exhibit.  This exhibit could not have happened without these generous sponsors and volunteers.

The butterflies will be on exhibit at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden for the month of April.  Following the exhibit at the Umlauf, the butterflies will make their journey to Houston to be a part of the Houston Holocaust Museum’s 2013 exhibit of 1.5 million butterflies.  The project was inspired by the poem The Butterfly, by Pavel Friedman, written while he lived in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp.  Pavel was later deported to Auschwitz, where he died at age 23 in 1944.