Play re-creates life in Hitler's most unusual -- and deceptive -- concentration camp
COLUMBIA, 11/18/11 (Beat Byte) -- The ironic words of doom above Auschwitz -- "Arbeit Macht Frei," or Work Makes Free -- blare from a hand-painted set piece for a play students at Columbia's West Junior High School are performing this weekend. Fifteen hundred hand-made paper butterflies symbolize children killed during the Nazi terror.
I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Celeste Raspanti is set during the Holocaust, in an unusual concentration camp in the Czech Republic called "Terezin" or Theresienstadt, a gussied-up stopover on the road to Auschwitz I learned about researching a book. Directed by West theater teacher Sarah Gerling, the play "speaks from a child's perspective of life in Terezin," Columbia Public Schools music teacher Pam Sisson told me.
German dictator Adolf Hitler's years-long siege against Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and anyone else who didn't fit the so-called "Aryan" mold of perfect humanity, the Holocaust was arguably the most heartbreaking tragedy in history. But as an opportunity to learn -- and never forget -- it can have a powerful impact on young minds and hearts.
"I spoke with a former Grant Elementary student who did not love school in his elementary years," Sisson explained. "At West Jr. High, he took a field trip to the Holocaust Museum in St. Louis. He talked non-stop for 15 minutes about everything he had learned in the greatest detail."
To learn more about Terezin, read the following excerpt from the book I mentioned previously.
In it, a train of refugees from Warsaw is entering a fictional concentration camp loosely based on Terezin
just outside the fictional Polish village of Melinka, nestled in the real-life Koscieliska Valley, one of the world's most beautiful places. The second in command, a German major named Petersdorf, has given both camp and village a false, happy front like the one Terezin put forth to the world.
"The train slowed and the people aboard looked through dirty, scratched windows. They saw delicate Melinka, nestled in the valley Scott Fitzgerald made famous with boozy letters to his editor and a few movie producers (some even visited and photographed the Koscieliska to scout locations).
The unmolested village idyll provided soldiers at the camp a nearby place for rest and recreation. On those rare visits from spouses and girlfriends, they were able to treat their girls to the wonderful surroundings, rather than the woeful center, of their daily awful lives.
[Hitler's security chief Heinrich] Himmler had ordered Organisation Todt to place a “resettlement camp” near Melinka in a nod to the success of Theresienstadt, an SS-run Czech ghetto with a happy face – well-stocked dummy stores, cafes, schools, gardens, even healthy-looking people – designed to deceive