To commemorate Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), the Tucson Hebrew Academy’s (THA’s) Hebrew and Humanities departments collaborated to design an assembly presented by the sixth-grade students to acknowledge the 1.2 million children that were murdered by the Nazis.
The assembly began with the students reminding the audience that a butterfly is a symbol of children killed in the Holocaust. One by one, the sixth-grade students, representing a specific child victim of the Holocaust, stepped on stage. They held up an object that symbolized the victim’s life and proceeded to tell the victim’s story. As the objects were collected and displayed on stage, they began to slowly assemble into a solemn, candle-lit memorial.
One particularly heart-rending story told was that of Hinda Cohen, who was born in a work camp and named after her mother. Two students explained that each day, the children were left with other prisoners who babysat them while their parents were forced to work. One day, when Hinda’s parents returned, they found that all the children had been transported. They searched for Hinda but could only find one of her shoes. They kept Hinda’s shoe and wrote the date that she was transported onto the sole. For them, this was the date of her death. After telling her story, the two students representing Hinda promised to always remember her and placed a single shoe on the stage in her honor.
Following each victim’s story, students recited a poem called “The Butterfly” that was written by Pavel Friedmann at Theresienstadt concentration camp on June 4th, 1942:
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone…
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished
to kiss the world goodbye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don’t live in here,
In the ghetto.
As the students recited the poem (half in English, half in Hebrew), a single butterfly was suspended from the stage ceiling, representing the child murdered in the Holocaust. By the conclusion of the assembly, an entire wall of hanging yellow butterflies had been built, forming a curtain backdrop as the students sang Eli Eli.
At times, history can feel cold and distant, particularly to young students who have yet to experience much of life; but by the end of the powerful assembly, both students and audience were undeniably moved, and honored to be tasked with keeping the memory of these children alive.
The Middle School students then continued their Yom HaShoah commemoration with a visit to the Tucson Jewish Museum and Holocaust Center. Tucson Hebrew Academy deeply appreciates the partnership with the museum and was especially grateful to the docent, Ellen Saltonstall for the time and attention she devoted to the Middle School students.