Butterflies Teach a Colorful Lesson

By Aaron Greenblatt

Published January 16, 2008, issue of January 18, 2008.
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Pavel Friedman’s enduring words inspired others to collect butterflies, as well.

A few years ago, artist and activist Sue Klau visited New York’s Jewish Museum with her husband. She toured an exhibit of paintings from children in Theresienstadt and read Pavel’s poem “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” She turned to her husband and said, “Let’s show that Pavel and the 1.5 million children did not die in vain.”

Afterward, she returned to her home in Puerto Rico, where she persuaded the principal at her grandson’s school to educate students about the Holocaust. Klau did not create a cohesive lesson plan per se, but influenced how these mostly non-Jewish students relate to the Shoah by having them read Friedman’s poem and The Diary of Anne Frank, and by bringing in special guests to run programs on Theresienstadt and the Holocaust’s young Jewish victims. Since then, she has collected butterflies from volunteers around the world and connected with the Union for Reform Judaism and with summer camps from its youth arm, NFTY.

More than 30,000 of the 50,000 decorated paper butterflies that Klau has collected, including one from Friedman’s widow, have come with the aid of Anat Hoffman, executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center. Hoffman generated publicity in such Israeli newspapers as Yediot Aharonot by organizing an event at an Israeli kindergarten with the country’s minister of education, Yuli Tamir.

Klau and Hoffman lack a well-defined infrastructure and clear educational goals. Part of the problem is that they have operated on a total budget of less than $10,000 in the past three years. Hoffman is still trudging ahead by seeking partnerships with Yad Vashem chairman Tommy Lapid, in addition to the Israeli Holocaust museums Terezin House and Yad L’Yeled.

Klau currently faces two problems: what to do with the butterflies she already has, and how to expedite the slow process to her goal of collecting 1.5 million butterflies. Perhaps she will organize an exhibit of all her butterflies; perhaps she will build a Web site to garner more attention. No matter what happens, however, Klau is certain of one thing.

“The future of this butterfly project is with my grandchildren,” the energetic 72-year-old said, insinuating that it just might be time to move on to another project.

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