The library of Houston’s Holocaust Museum looks like a butterfly refuge. An artist’s vision of a butterfly refuge, that is. Hanging from the ceiling, nailed to the walls, sitting on the floor are butterflies fashioned from paper, papier-mache, stained glass and other media.
The art works are among the early submissions in a long-term Butterfly Project initiated by the 13-year-old institution.
The museum (www.hmh.org) is seeking 1.5 million handmade butterflies in memory of the 1.5 million young victims of the Shoah. The deadline for submissions is June 2011, and the butterflies will go on exhibit the following year. (For information: (713) 942-800; firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The project is inspired by the poem “The Butterfly,” written by Prague-born Pavel Freidmann in Terezin in 1942, two years before he died in Auschwitz. The poem’s most famous line: “Butterflies don’t live in here, in the ghetto.”
“The butterfly is a symbol of life, beauty,” says Natalie Herzog, the museum’s assistant director of education. “Each butterfly is to represent one of those [martyred] children. It’s hard to understand what a million and a half is.”
Open to people of all ages and faiths around the world, the innovative project is designed to introduce a gruesome topic, mass murder, in a non-threatening manner; it is similar to the Paper Clips Project that began in a southeastern Tennessee middle school to teach the Holocaust to non-Jewish students 11 years ago, and exceeded by a factor of five its goal of collecting six million paper clips.
The Butterfly Project, which includes extensive teaching materials shipped in a Curriculum Trunk, “is a concrete educational vehicle for those involved to feel not only the loss of one and a half million children, but to remember them,” says Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a child survivor of the Holocaust. “I often tell young people that the children died alone; but if they could have known that more than 60 years later one and a half million people would take the time to remember each of them, they would have been a little less lonely.”
At last unofficial count, the project has received about a half million butterflies, most of which are stored across the street from the museum in the city’s museum district, from children and adults in more than four dozen countries.
Most of the students who have created butterflies so far are not Jewish, Herzog says. Some are Muslims. “The majority are Christians.”