Thursday, April 23, 2009

...I never saw another butterfly... (random thoughts)

...I never saw another butterfly...: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 (expanded second edition with foreword by Chaim Potok).

I've been trying to stay off the computer for a few days to get some work done, but this book is due back at the library today, and I just had to say a little something about it. It's a beautiful book. It's a powerful book. It's a book that will rip the heart right from your chest.

The subtitle of the book describes the contents of this book. But there is also a foreword that tells of the history of Terezin, a walled fortress town built in the late 1700s in the hills outside of Prague. It eventually became a civilian town and housed about 8,000 people. In October of 1941, the Nazis took over Terezin and renamed it Theresienstadt. The ghetto of Terezin become a stop along the way toward their death for many Jews. For many it was the place of their death. There is no way to put a pretty face on the conditions of Terezin, and yet that is exactly what the Nazis tried to do. They used Terezin as a model to show off to the world. In 1944, they went on a rapid "beautification" campaign and tried to put a pretty face on the ghetto for a Red Cross inspection visit. They also shot a propaganda film at this time.

But the truth was entirely different. People died of starvation and disease on a continuous basis. They were beaten and deprived of the basic necessities. But the Jews who had been sent there fought back in their own secretive ways, including by secretly teaching art to the children. The drawings and poems featured in this book are but a few of the pieces that have been saved and housed in the State Jewish Museum in Prague.

The art is incredibly moving. There are pencil drawings and paintings and collages. The materials used were whatever they could find, including a great deal of office forms. A few of the poems contain an innocence that is every bit as heart-breaking as the poems full of pain. Chaim Potok writes in the foreword:

And the children--did they know that death lay waiting for them, too? It is probable that many of them did, in the way that children get to know things, by tunneling beneath adult deceits and repressions and coming upon truths they sense with animal keenness, truths that fuel their darkest terrors.


The book contains a catalog of the poems and a catalog of the artwork. Whatever biographical information that could be found on these children artists is included. Often just their date of birth, the date they were transported to Terezin, and the date they were transported from Terezin to Auschwitz. Far too many of these miniature biographies end with a variation of "She was sent to Auschwitz on May 18, 1944, where she perished." In fact, of the 15,000 children sent to Terezin, fewer than 100 survived the war.

14 comments:

Eva said...

That title might be one of the most heartbreaking things ever. Your entire post made me cry. But it's good to cry in the face of atrocity.

Grad said...

What a beautiful post, and it's about a subject very much on my mind this morning. The Sanctum Sanctorum (Silver Wishbone Movie Nighters) watched The Boy In The Striped Pajamas last night. Talk about having one's heart pulled out of one's chest...that is also how I would describe that movie. Thank you for this lovely, lovely post.

Kailana said...

Wow. This book sounds like something to read...

Scrap girl said...

I don't know if I could read it without getting upset. I am no good with books like this.

Chris said...

Oh wow, this sounds like an amazingly powerful book...I'm adding it right to my wishlist...oh yah, just checked the library and they have it! I just requested it. I love children's art..there's so much portrayed in that art that most of us lose as adults...some of us can hold onto it, but I'm not one of them. I agree with Eva though...that title is so sad :(

kreed said...

So this sounds unbelievably heart breaking...I go trhough phases where I can handle these types of books, but now is not one of those! I may have to look for this one at a later date, though-it sounds like it is definitely worth reading.

Jean said...

I actually have this book on my quilt shelf because I think that some of the artwork and words would be great inspiration for quilts. I don't know if I'll ever get around to them, though, because I basically have so many more ideas than time. You have more books than time, and I have more artsy craftsy things I'd like to do.

Chris said...

Just coming by to give you a virtual hug Debi :)

valentina said...

I never heard of Terezin, but only reading your post made my heart weep. It looks like the book was both beautiful and unbearable.

Trish said...

What a beautiful and moving post, Debi. I haven't heard anything about Terezin, but this sounds like a book I must pick up and then pass around as many times as I can. Can you believe I've never read anything by Potok either?

Nymeth said...

This book sounds so beautiful. Thank you, Debi.

Anonymous said...

I'm an artist....
Something very unexpected happened during my painting session yesterday that gave me a new perspective.
I was working on a small painting of Prague for a retired member of the U.S. Airforce who, together with is wife, had been stationed in Europe during the cold war as a "Luftmarine". Due to health reasons, they are no longer able to travel back to visit but they remember them fondly and are avid collector's of European art.
The couple needed one more painting of Prague to finish their collection, and asked me to paint the Powder Tower, a medieval structure in central Prague. I paint in acrylics and always begin with the sky at the top of the page. While doing so, a splash of blue paint fell onto the paper in the wrong place. Annoyed, I almost painted it away, until I noticed it looked just like a little butterfly. Still not convinced that a butterfly belonged in a painting of Prague, I again nearly painted over it. But the splash of color was such a perfectly formed, delicate little butterfly that I decided to leave it there. It was also artistically positioned against the dark stone of the old medieval tower.
So I did a search online to see if there was a reason that this butterfly flew across my painting. What I found gave me goosebumps. I'd never heard of this book, let alone Terezin. I emailed the story to my Luftmarine friend and was astounded at his response. His wife is Jewish and most of her European relatives died in concentration camps. I have the chills.

Debi said...

Anonymous,
Thank you so much for sharing this. I literally have chills...I'm not sure I've ever felt that before. I also have tears in my eyes. I am so very happy you didn't paint over it.

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