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Rugby students learn about the Holocaust through Butterfly Project

By Staff | Apr 5, 2013

In 1942, Pavel Friedmann, a Jew born in Czechoslovakia, wrote a poem about the fleeting beauty of the butterfly, a sight which he never saw again once he was sent to a Nazi concentration camp.

That poem has spawned a project by the Holocaust Museum Houston, and has given eighth-graders at Rugby High School a new perspective on the atrocities of World War II.

The museum is collecting 1.5 million butterflies, representing the number of children that were killed in the Holocaust.

Eighth-grade English teacher Kyle Vareberg knew that his class would be studying the story of Anne Frank this year as part of the regular curriculum.

After hearing about this project, he thought it would dovetail nicely into the course of study.

“I came across this project and thought, I’m definitely going to have my eighth-graders do this,” he said. “It’s a cool project for them to be involved in, but I thought why send 40 butterflies if I can orchestrate the school system to send 400. I’ve been working on this since December. The eighth-graders are taking over as of today.”

The class started by reading the poem a few times and talked about it in class.

“What we talk about is what does the butterfly in this poem mean,” Vareberg said. “It’s just how all the beauty in the world is washed away. He never gets to see anything beautiful anymore.”

The students started working on their own butterflies and began posting them to a large wall in the school. In May, the students will send their butterflies to Houston, as well as ones decorated by students from Ely Elementary and other classes at RHS.

“I thought it was kind of cool how they can let people who don’t know much about the Holocaust participate and learn more about it,” Jasmine Morrow said. “It’s something small that stands for something much bigger.”

It’s a project that has resonated with many of Vareberg’s students.

“When you think about we’ve been hearing 12 million people were killed, but you don’t think of how many of those were children,” said Cade Heilman. “It makes you think how unbearable the conditions were to think that seeing a butterfly would make your day.”

The class hopes to fill the wall completely by the end of the spring term, and is accepting submissions from anyone and everyone.

“The big thing is getting the public involved,” Vareberg said. “If anyone wants to go on the Internet and print off a template and color a butterfly and bring it in, they can add their butterfly to the wall. It’s a nice way to memorialize these victims.”

That sentiment was echoed by eighth-grader Abagail Volk as she hung up one of the dozens of butterflies now on the wall.

“It’s really sad that they all died, but it’s cool to put all of these butterflies up to remember them,” she said.

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