2007-03-30

Butterflies

MrMaple and I received terrible word Wednesday evening that a friend and fellow-singer had died unexpectedly. Our love and best wishes go out to her dear husband. But it has left me thinking about grief all evening, and a term I started using after losing our baby in 2004 - Good Grief.

We all need to grieve, but it is hard to not let that grief consume us. I consider Good Grief doing something positive to remember the person you've lost. When we lost a son during our 5th month of pregnancy, it seemed appropriate to participate in the March of Dimes walkathon, to end premature birth, the next month.

In reflecting on this newest loss, I recalled us singing together in a 1994 performance of Verdi's Requiem. This concert was a 40th anniversary of the work's performance at the Terezin concentration camp. Terezin was a Nazi concentration camp used for propaganda purposes. Housing many scholars and artists, Terezin allowed its Jewish inhabitants to pursue their creative and intellectual work. Their work was displayed for visiting dignitaries — including an International Red Cross delegation — giving the impression that such liberties were allowed throughout the internment system.

Rafael Sch├Ąchter, a conductor interned at Terezin, conceived of a performance of Verdi’s Requiem, with its themes of God’s justice and liberation, as a way for the prisoners to “sing to the Nazis what they could not say to them.” Sch├Ąchter prepared more than 150 musicians (by ROTE, from only 1 vocal score) who managed to perform Verdi’s demanding work 16 times between 1943 and 1944, despite constant hunger, exhaustion and the systematic deportation of chorus members to Auschwitz.

Children were also encouraged to create art, as documented in the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly - Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp 1942–1944, by Hana Volavkova. A total of 15,000 children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp between the years 1942-44. In the book, poems and pictures drawn by the young inmates of Terezin, depict the daily misery of these uprooted children, as well as their courage and optimism, their hopes and fears.
"The Butterfly"

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 good-bye.

For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found what I love here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut branches in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here,
in the ghetto.

-Pavel Friedman June 4, 1942

This poem is preserved in typewritten copy on thin copy paper in the collection of poetry by the poet, which was donated to the State Jewish Museum during its documentation campaign. Pavel Freidmann was deported to Terezin on April 26, 1942. He died in Aushchwitz on September 29, 1944.
Inspired by the book, the Holocaust Museum Houston has started the Butterfly Project. They are collecting 1.5 million hand-crafted butterflies to represent all of the children who perished during the holocaust. Although 15,000 of those children passed through Terezin, less than 100 survived.
I plan to take some time with MiniMaple this weekend and create our own butterflies to contribute to the project. And as I accumulate glue, glitter and marker under my fingernails, I will think of our friend and hope she has found peace...on the wings of a butterfly.