By: Ms. Hernjak, Middle School Teacher
In the year 1870, there was a fortress town set in a serene world of meadows, rolling hills and summer butterflies against a background of bluish Bohemian mountains. The town was called Terezin. By October 1941, German troops had conquered Terezin, and it was renamed Theresienstadt, a concentration camp. This particular camp was meant to be a “model camp”. In 1944, a commission of the International Red Cross arrived to inspect this model camp. They found buildings painted, gardens planted, stores filled with goods, and new furniture was discovered in the homes of prominent prisoners. When the Red Cross visitors left, so did the gardens, goods and furniture. Theresienstadt was a town of deceit crafted by Hitler. A total of 15,000 children under the age of 15 lived in the Terezin concentration camp. Less than 100 survived.
These children lived in a world full of color and shadow, of hunger and of hope. They displayed their feelings, hopes and dreams by writing poems and drawing pictures. The drawings and poems are all that is left of these children. They are published in a book titled “I never saw another butterfly”.
As part of their Diary of Anne Frank unit, each eighth grade student was assigned a poem from a child who lived in Terezin. The students read the poem silently to themselves, looking for examples of hopes, dreams and/or fears in their child’s poem. In order to represent their child, each eighth grader created a handmade butterfly using construction paper and markers. The butterflies were a creative depiction of their child’s life, the good and the bad. The butterflies were then hung from the ceiling in room 220. At the end of the unit, Ms. Hernjak told the class the destiny of each child. If the child perished, the butterfly, which had been hung with such beauty and hope, was cut down for no significant reason. At the end of the class period, few butterflies remained hanging from the ceiling.
Terezin has since returned to its tranquil surroundings, the rolling hills, blue mountains and the butterflies.
Children were neither just the mute and traumatized witnesses to this war, nor merely its innocent victims; the war invaded their imaginations, and the war raged inside them.” — Nicholas Stargardt, “Witnesses of War: Children’s Lives Under the Nazis”