Growing up, I was not told about the Holocaust, but was left to ‘discover’ it for myself. Even when certain books in my father’s small collection – including Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” – alerted me to the grotesque that humans can engender, I was unable to ask my parents questions about the dark matter of genocide and fascism that was concealed in their personal narratives.
My mother subscribed to a woman’s weekly magazine which once carried the story of Jewish children held in Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. The article included poems and drawings by some of those doomed children and young adults. One of the poems held the line: ‘I never saw another butterfly’. This caused a fissure to run through my teenage heart.
Now, as the Israel-Hamas War accelerates, I think of the children of Theresienstadt and the children of Israel and the children of Gaza and the children of Ukraine and of Syria and Niger and Sudan and Ethiopia and Afghanistan and, and, and ….
I sit here in my own garden.
Four white butterflies drift like offerings of peace, enjoying the fragrance of a blue-flowering rosemary bush.
I have been prompted to ‘say something’ about the Israel-Hamas War – this new war on the block – but find myself mute.
By Pavel Friedman
Theresienstadt 4 June 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 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 here, in the ghetto.
‘I never saw another butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Theresienstadt Concentration Camp 1942-1944’
Published by Neville Spearman Ltd London 1962
Translated by Jeanne Nemcova
Pavel Friedman was born in Prague and deported to Terezin on 26 April 1942. He died in Auschwitz.