The Beauty of a Butterfly
By Elana Schechtman
Palm Beach Gardens, FL


 

“The dandelions call to me/ And the white chestnut branches in the court./Only I never saw another butterfly,” Pavel Friedman, writes, “That butterfly was the last one./Butterflies don’t live in here,/ in the ghetto.”
Have you ever watched a young child encounter an insect? Many are compelled to touch the little creatures and to examine them from all angles. The unique metamorphosis of the butterfly captivates children, and once the wings take the former caterpillar into the air, it’s as if a child’s spirit and innocence flit away along with it. It is a delicate reminder of life’s cycle and renewal. Like the lives lost, the memory and beauty found within the spirit of a butterfly transcends generations. My first encounter with “I never saw another butterfly” was three days before I embarked on a trip that changed my life. Accompanied by other teenagers I traveled from Poland to Israel-from the darkeness to the light.

Before embarking, I received a very special gift, a leather journal embossed in butterflies. The diary served as my relief as I penned my emotions, like I did with the following excerpt in which I wrote while at Majdanik:

“I am sitting on the ground of a barrack! The wood is hard, aged, and most of all dark. There are countless numbers of shoes on display; I mean thousands of shoes sitting in a barbed wire container. If every soul who belonged to each pair of shoes had to live here, sleep here, and slowly die here, then I myself would like to just sit here for a moment, and listen to the stories and sounds embedded within these walls. Yet, the stories do not need to be told, for the tears, holes and worn soles depict all that I need to know. With every fiber of my being, I will mend their broken souls by never forgetting the sight of their soles.”

As I passed through the barracks that were once inhabited by those who suffered, and fields that were the home to torture and murder, the silence of the camp became deafening. For me, the hardest aspect to witness was not just the atrocious sight, but the beautiful landscape and surroundings. Majdanik, which was a place of unspeakable death, is now splendidly picturesque covered by the growth of plush trees, green grass, and the delightful sounds of birds chirping, bees buzzing, and of course butterflies. The palpable contrast between life and death for me served as a constant reminder to never forget what happened there, but also remember that life renews, and with it a new sense of hope.

Hope is something that even the most dehumanizing of acts cannot snatch away from the human spirit. It can appear to be lost from time to time by those who suffer, but hope is all that we have when our identities have been stripped away.

Members of various underground uprisings in the Jewish ghettos of Eastern Europe demonstrated ultimate hope. On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began. After German troops and police entered the ghetto, seven hundred and fifty fighters fought the heavily armed Germans for nearly one month.

Their mission remains as a symbol of resistance, just as the trees, grass, birds, and bees symbolize resistance to acts of inhumanity at the concentration camps today. They represent all those that perished and a new generation to carry on the message of tolerance. Like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, a new generation of educators, students, and believers bring forth the hope of a better tomorrow.

As painful as the events and atrocities of the Holocaust were, we can no longer merely ask “why?” as I once did, but instead, “what can be done for the future?” By questioning and never forgetting we become the advocates for each soul lost in Nazi Germany. We become the butterflies of a new generation.

Currently, butterflies as a symbol of hope can be seen in Whitwell, Tennessee, a rural community of less than two thousand people who set out on a mission. It all began in 1998 when the principal of Whitwell Middle School decided to educate the children on diversity in the exclusively white and Christian community. She set out at first to teach the lessons of the Holocaust, but with an enthused student body she ended up surpassing her expectations. In the end with the help of dedicated individuals, the students collected millions of paper clips representing each life lost in the Holocaust. Today the clips are monumentally fixed in their town within a cattle car utilized by the Nazi regime. Moreover, the students at Whitwell continue their mission in the lessons of the Holocaust by hosting other schools from surrounding areas to take in the lessons they learned in honor of the 11 million victims.
Only by remembering and honoring the souls of the past, can we begin to combat current genocides. On April 30, 2006, over 100 organizations including the United States Holocaust Memorial Council’s Committee on Conscience, rallied in Washington for the “Save Darfur Coalition” campaign. From Hollywood celebrities to everyday students, Americans joined together to fight against this horrible injustice. They banned together so that the past experiences of the Holocaust would not be repeated.

Personally, I believe that by becoming the advocates for victims of the past will we help to honor all those that perished. However, it wasn’t until my best friend broke down after watching a film about the children of the Holocaust that I understood the importance of never forgetting. As a Muslim American, she has had to combat both discrimination and prejudice through out her own life, yet she wanted me to know that she would become an avid fighter against anti-Semitism as well, by debunking any anti-Semitic remarks from fellow students.

I have always felt responsible to learn about the Holocaust, since I am a grandchild of a survivor, but to know that others also feel passionate has truly taught me that the memories of all those that perished will survive as well.

I am optimistic that the lessons of the Holocaust have successfully transcended to a new generation that is committed to prevent discrimination by signing petitions, rallying, donating funds, and making it a personal mission to take action against genocide. We must begin by living compassionately and with tolerance in our daily lives. We can first start by standing up to all discriminatory acts, no matter who they are directed to.

We must also become experts of our past, so that our futures are brighter. Currently students like myself are visiting Poland, learning from survivors, accessing educational tools, and protesting. Genocide deserves no place within our world. We can no longer stay in our cocoons. There will be a time when concentration camp survivors will no longer exist to tell their stories and all that will remain is the stench of dusty shoes.

 


WORKS CITED

PAPER CLIPS: SYNOPSIS. Online. 26 Apr 2006._<http://www.paperclipsmovie.com/synopsis.php>.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Online. 26 Apr 2006._<http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/wgupris.htm>.

VOICES ON GENOCIDE PREVENTION. Online. 26 Apr 2006._<http://www.ushmm.org/conscience/podcasts/>.

Volavkova, Hana. I never saw another butterfly. New York: Schocken Books, Inc, 1993.
 

 


The opinions, comments, and sentiments expressed by the participants are not necessarily those of Holland & Knight LLP or the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation, Inc.

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