USC Shoah Foundation joined a classroom event in Germany on Friday in which fifth- and sixth-graders showcased their contributions to The Butterfly Project, an international effort by schoolchildren to paint 1.5 million ceramic butterflies – one for every child murdered in the Holocaust.
Since the project’s 2006 inception, some 210,000 ceramic butterflies have been painted and displayed by students in North America, Israel, Australia, Cuba, France, Morocco and elsewhere. The 100 butterflies from the students in Cottbus near Berlin marks the first contribution from Germany. The display will function as a permanent memorial at the primary school, Bewegte Grundschule.
“I woke up this morning – middle of the night, actually – with tears in my eyes, because I’m so full of joy of what the school and children are doing,” said Steven Schindler, the San Diego resident who organized the event, and whose father, Max Schindler, is a Holocaust survivor who grew up in Cottbus.
Max spoke of his hometown in his USC Shoah Foundation testimony, recorded in 1996.
“Life was comfortable in Cottbus,” he said. “We went on family outings. We went on day trips to rivers and mountains.”
But everything changed on Oct. 28, 1938. That morning, a teacher slapped him. Later, two secret service people came into the classroom and escorted Max to jail “for exile into Poland.”
“Before that I did not feel antisemitism as such,” Max said in his testimony. “We were able to go to the synagogues, we were able to go to the normal school.”
On hand at Friday’s event was Andrea Szönyi, USC Shoah Foundation’s head of programs for international education in Hungary.
“The Butterfly Project is a creative and constructive way to teach empathy and expose students to Holocaust education in a manner that is age-appropriate,” she said. “It was inspiring to see such a heartfelt display of compassion by this group of students.”
Szönyi attended to explore the educational opportunities for testimony, given the school’s engagement with the topic.
Friday’s event was timed to precede International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is recognized every January 27 in observance of the 1945 liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
After the war, Max married Auschwitz survivor Rose Schwartz; the couple eventually moved to San Diego. There, Max worked as a software developer. Rose came to be a frequent speaker at La Jolla Country Day School in San Diego. She also helped La Jolla Country Day School forge a connection with Bewegte Grundschule in Germany.
In November, to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, students and staff at La Jolla Country Day School participated in the remembrance project, painting more than 2,000 butterflies and arranging themselves into a giant butterfly shape on the school’s football field.