As part of Professor Allinson’s Good, Evil, and the Holocaust course, on October 27th, I, along with my classmates, attended a play titled I Never Saw Another Butterfly at the Laguna Playhouse. Professor Allinson assigned this play to personalize the information we had covered in class about the Holocaust by seeing living children perform the roles of those murdered by the Nazi’s. Before the start of the production, the directors of the play shared findings from a recent Orange County human rights report that indicated hate crimes against the Jewish community represented constituted a startling 13% of all hate crimes in 2018. In addition, a survivor of the holocaust spoke in-depth about her experiences. This play served as a stark reminder to all of us of the injustices that can occur if we allow certain groups to be dehumanized.
Taking place in Terezin, a Jewish ghetto established by the Nazis during World War II, child actors brought to life the stories of the plight experienced by inhabitants. In one particularly memorable scene, several of the children actors express their longing to return home by sharing with the audience their favorite activities. One child mentions riding a bike around his neighborhood. Another wistfully looks off in the distance as he talks about running and playing in the streets with his friends.
In many ways, living in Terezin was akin to being in prison. Jewish people were stuffed into overcrowded barracks and separated from friends and family. Any sort of learning was strictly prohibited. Movement in the streets required a physical pass. Physically fit individuals were forced to work hard labor. Above all, everyone toiled in the uncertainty that any day their number would be called and they would be transported to Auschwitz where unspeakable horrors awaited them. When someone’s number did finally get called, their departure often came at the expense of the emotional well-being of their friends and family members.
Arguably, one of the most moving scenes in the entire play is when Raja, the lone survivor from Terezin, has to say farewell to her good friend Honza who will soon be transferred to Auschwitz. The horror-stricken expression on her face powerfully captures the suffering experienced by individuals when they are separated from those closest to them. She is left powerless and forced to accept the uncomfortable reality that she will never see Honza again.
In the face of this unspeakable oppression, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis courageously encouraged children to take up writing and drawing. Her classes offered children an escape from their uncomfortable realities. Some of the children later even created their own magazine called Vedem which provided them a platform to express themselves creatively. A couple of brave souls took it upon themselves to deliver the magazine to the other barracks. This was one of the few pleasures they had during their time in Terezin. Otherwise, the SS officers had created a large prison that prevented children from being children. They had no freedom to engage in the activities that any child needs for their development.
Yet, despite the Nazi’s best efforts to dehumanize the Jewish population living in Terezin, they were unable to break the wills of many of the inhabitants. Portrayals of the Jewish children living in these extreme conditions reveal a collective, indomitable spirit that continuously sought out slivers of freedom and hope even when none were available. Ultimately, this play successfully illustrated the collective resistance of the people living in Terezin to Nazi rule and left those in attendance contemplating how any human being could be capable of such cruelty.