It has been 75 years since Kristallnacht, a night that shattered glass and shattered lives. This was the prelude to the inferno that would engulf Europe over the next seven years. As I reflect on that night, I think about the many children who suffered and the urgent choices forced on families throughout the Holocaust. I think of the children who were put on trains to new lands or put on trains to death.
With 15,000 children forced to enter the gates of the Terezin concentration camp, fewer than 100 survived. And yet the children of Terezin left us powerful poetry and art, some of which is compiled in the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly.
In April, I will be bringing 30 local children, actors in the theatrical version of I Never Saw Another Butterfly, to Prague in the Czech Republic to perform together with the Prague Youth Theater. These children will voluntarily walk through the gates of Terezin as they give witness to and memorialize the thousands of children who perished.
My actors are emissaries and teachers. Since Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, in 2012, children from 22 different schools have been performing the play I Never Saw Another Butterfly in Wolf Performing Arts Center’s The Butterfly Project. The Butterfly Project has alighted on more than 8,000 people — on young and old, on Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, on the physically abled and disabled, and on the economically secure and insecure. These children performed in school gyms, senior center auditoriums, the lobby of the Wilma Theatre, in places of worship, and in the Perelman Theatre at the Kimmel Center.
Watching the young actors at the Kimmel Center last April during the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts was a particular triumph. But just when I thought the journey had reached its pinnacle, I discovered that we had not at all reached the height that this “Butterfly” is capable of flying.
What an incredible opportunity — 30 children from our area will join with 30 children from the Prague Youth Theatre and perform at the Terezin camp itself, reciting the poems in their native Czech language. One of the audience members will be a survivor about whom the play was written, Raja Englanderova.
The children and I have met Raja via Skype. After the meeting, one actor wrote, “Talking with you has truly been one of the most memorable experiences of my young life. I hope you get the chance to see our production.” Raja responded: “I wish you could play it in Prague one day.”
Now Raja’s wish and my dream for The Butterfly Project are coming true. And we are committed to raising funds to enable every child who wishes to be able to go.
In addition to visiting Terezin, performing and touring, we are going to participate in a Passover seder while we are in Prague, thanks to the efforts of the director of the Prague Youth Theatre, Adam Stewart. When I imagine 60 children from various parts of the world, various ages and religions sitting together at the table, I believe in the power of dreams.
Seventy-five years ago flames began to ignite Europe with hatred. Those flames cannot silence memory. It is up to the children to remember. The words of the children from Terezin will be spoken together by the children of Wolf Performing Arts Center and the Prague Youth Theatre as they remind us about the power of art, about hope and survival — and remind us to never forget. l
Bobbi Wolf is executive director of the Wolf Performing Arts Center (Wolf PAC). For more information about The Butterfly Project, visit: www.wolfperfomingartscenter.org .