Thursday, March 10, 2005

I Never Saw Another Butterfly

Maxed-Out Mama sent me here, and I want you to go there too. It's another Holocaust story, but it's not like anything you might ever have read before.

There is no such thing as too many Holocaust stories. For each victim, and for each survivor, there is a story. We must hear as many of them as we can.

I taught the Holocaust at the middle school level for 26 years. A few people thought they were too young, but they weren't. It was exactly the right age to learn about it. My students wept. They were outraged, and then they wept some more.

And people say middle school students don't care about anything. People are often wrong.

For many of them, it was their first exposure to an adult theme in school, and their first exposure to adults committing evil, other than on a movie screen. It was politics, and apathy, and sensitivity and insensitivity, and cruelty, and blood-covered statistics, and compassion, and even, dare I say it, EMPATHY.

It went beyond Anne Frank. It was soap and candles and hair-shirts and gold fillings, and mountains of shoes. It was tattoos and shaved heads and ovens manufactured specifically for large quantities of human bodies. Ovens that looked exactly like the ovens that fairy-tale bakers and their wives used for bread. Only bigger. Ovens that looked exactly like the ovens that textbook peasants used for bread. Only bigger.

It was babies torn from their mothers' arms and bashed against a tree, or tossed off a moving train. It was families split apart, never to lay eyes on each other again, in this world.

It was whole towns levelled, and populations machine-gunned into pits, covered over, never to be found again. Or, later found by a farmer with a plow.

Students whose only exposure to concentration camps was Magneto, learned about train rides with people stacked like cordwood, and only the middle of the pile surviving, and why. Students so picky they'd eat only the red M&M's learned about staying alive by picking lice off a dead man's back.

Students who scorned their parents and siblings learned about sacrifices that would, could, and did, break a heart.

Students who obsessed over styles learned about making a cover for the body out of a burlap bag, and buying underwear with a week's bread ration. Having a bad hair day? Students saw what happened to everybody's hair.

Students who loved poetry, or who scorned poetry, cried over the pictures and the verses in "I Never Saw Another Butterfly," an awesome book about and by the children of Terezin camp.

If you have, or will soon have, a middle school-age child, do not fear.

Middle school students are smart, and sensitive, and innately kind, no matter what else you might have heard. To learn a thing exists, and to weep over it, is an indicator of great empathy.

People who learn while young to empathize, grow into adults who do something about it.

This was my job until a year ago. I loved it.

One of my students found this poem on the internet, about a year and a half ago. He copied it, pasted it, and printed it off for me. He brought it to me in the computer lab at school, and then he turned and sat down so I could "cry without being stared at."

Yeah, they all knew how I reacted to things.

Here is the poem that young man found for me. And fair warning: it's a toughie. Especially if you have a young child. Proceed with care.


And the child held her hand.
A child tiny for almost eight,
Deep blue eyes that dominated his face
When he explained new events to her;
That funny doggie
That pretty rock. . . .
And the freckles on his cheek. . . .
No one saw a sunrise more perfect,
To her,
She so vividly smells the fragrance of
His hair,
His ears,
His breath in the morning. . . .
She vividly hears that little heartbeat,
That was hers
Always hers,
And the laughter,
That raspy little laugh,
When he caught her in a conundrum.
All this,
But this is merely the surface,
As she watches her little God sheared,
And stripped,
For the gas chamber. . . .

--by Laura Crist

Sometimes, I greatly fear for the future of our nation. And then I remember my middle school kids, and I feel a lot better.
Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 8:48 PM | |


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