Book Review: I Never Saw Another Butterfly

I Never Saw Another ButterflyI Never Saw Another Butterfly by Hana Volavkova

Recently reading about the Houston Holocaust Museum's planned 2013 exhibition titled The Butterfly Project, I read for the first time Pavel Friedmann's poem "The Butterfly" in which he remarks that he has seen no butterfly in the ghetto though some of the beauty of the natural world insists on itself even there.

The ghetto is the Terezin Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia. Terezin was a bizarre experiment of the Third Reich, which set it up as a place to hold Jewish artists, intellectuals, and Jewish German army veterans of World War I. To these Jews and to the world it presented this depraved and dirty ghetto as a gift to these Jews who had greatly to German culture. In face, the Germans even succeeded in fooling the Red Cross into believing the place was OK.

Meanwhile, 15,000 childre passed through Terezin, but fewer than 100 survived.

While they were in that hellish bastion of cruelty, these children were nevertheless blessed by the Vienna-born, Bauhaus-trained artist Friedl Dicker-Brandeis. Under her gentle direction and with the few art supplies shemanaged to hoard, many ofhtese childdren found a release for all that they were feeling as they encountered Nazi cruelty and awaited death every day.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly exhibits these children's artwork, poems, and prose in the space of 106 pages. The book includes a catalog of the works that identifies the young artists' birth, deportation, and death dates.

When the book arrived the other day, I decided I would not read the book until I coul read it in one sitting. The book deserves complete, uninterrupted attention. The innocence and honesty, truth and reality captured by these children create beauty where otherwise beauty could not take hold.

Works of art on scraps of paper are the legacy of murdered children to the present. May we learn from them.

Hey, try to open up your heart
To beauty; go to the woods someday
And weave a wreath of memory there.
Then if tears obscure your way
You'll know how wonderful it is
To be alive.

--Anonymous, 1941

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  1. wow, the title says it all...

  2. great post- We teach the Holocaust as well. One of my "favorite" books is I Am A Star by Inge Auerbacher- one of the 100 children who survived Terezin. through the book are many poems written by the children. If you ever see the book- the poem on p.63 gets me EVERY time. So tragic.

  3. I used to sit in our synagogue library and read the poems in this book over and over as an adolescent...trying to imagine if I would have appreciated the beauty in the horror.

  4. This sends chills up all over my body.
    This was an act that was totally unforgiveable and evil.
    To do all those experiments on innocent children
    To torture them, maim them, take their eyes .
    Totally unforgivable.
    I am very lax on many things except when it pertains to children.
    You'll hit a brick wall.

  5. When I read the title I knew it would be something sad. It is amazing what hope can bring us.

  6. I visited several of the former prison camps that have been turned into museums when I lived in Germany. The records of the suffering and horror is heartbreaking and terrifying that humans can do that to anyone. I do remember being horrified back then and the newsreels in the movies were terrifying to watch. I'll have to get this book. Thanks, Sandy.


  7. heartbreaking! I am going to check it out.



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