Flying in the darkness

“We were all affected; we all lost roots or branches of our family trees. Nobody came out of that untouched. But out of the ashes of the Holocaust, we have our state."

Child actors in J-Town Playhouse’s ‘I Never Saw Another Butterfly’ (photo credit: ITA ARBIT)
Child actors in J-Town Playhouse’s ‘I Never Saw Another Butterfly’
(photo credit: ITA ARBIT)
When it came time to decide which show J-Town Playhouse would offer this year at the AACI Theater for Holocaust Remembrance day, producer Aviella Trapido and the other members of the J-Town Playhouse team wanted to choose something that had not been done many times over, and in addition, something that presented stories from the Holocaust in a new way. “As producers, we have to come up with something that hasn’t been done over and over like Anne Frank,” Trapido says. “When you’re dealing with the Holocaust, all of the subject matter is very depressing. Last year, we did Hanna Szenes, which was very well received. It was a completely fresh take and a different angle on the Holocaust. So this year, we wanted to go back to our roots, but also with a fresh take. We really liked the concept of bringing light in a time of darkness. That’s what our nation is all about: resiliency. Despite the darkness, we are here today. Malka Abrams is such a fine director that she has really created a wonderful atmosphere and learning experience for everyone involved with this play.”
The play I Never Saw Another Butterfly is named after the title of a poem written by Pavel Friedman, one of the children of the Terezin ghetto, or Theresienstadt, as it was known in German. Friedman was later killed in Auschwitz. Terezin was essentially the “model” camp that the Nazis used as propaganda in World War II to try to prove to the rest of the world that the Jews were being treated relatively humanely. It was where the artists, scholars, musicians and professionals were brought. All of the children who were brought there were encouraged to express themselves creatively by their teacher, Freidel. Freidel encouraged them to write and draw, and then she buried all of the artwork and poetry to save it from being destroyed by the Nazis. At the end of the war, much of it was recovered. One of these recovered poems was “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” The poem became a symbol of hope prevailing even in the darkest of times and inspired many plays, music and pieces of art. It is also the title of a collection of works by the children of Terezin that was published by Hana Volavkova in 1994.
The play, which consists of only one act, was written by Celeste Raspanti. The story is based on the life of a survivor of Terezin named Raja. It flashes back between present day and earlier; her life before being taken away, her life in the Terezin ghetto, and her life in the present when the story is being told. Raja recounts her memories. The character was a real person who actually did survive. The playwright found Raja’s story so compelling that she was inspired to write the play about her. Raspanti took a lot of liberties in the storytelling, and combined some of the stories of various survivors in order to write the play. “Overall, I Never Saw Another Butterfly is about finding light and hope in the dark despair of the ghetto,” Trapido adds. “I think the poem is so compelling because there is something exceptionally bittersweet about seeing things through the eyes of a child. It’s very poignant. The tragedy of children being taken away in the middle of the night, being sent away and murdered. These things became relatively commonplace. These children had to become adults very young, and yet they still tried to hold onto life as much as they could. I don’t know if adults could do that. Children have this beautiful ability and the poem really showcases this. As children, we can still dream more than adults can. These children were in the midst of hell and yet they were able to express themselves through painting, singing and writing.”
In terms of the children of the cast – who make up the majority of the cast – the experience of preparing to act in I Never Saw Another Butterfly has been an educational one. The J-Town Playhouse team organized a trip for them to go to Kibbutz Givat Haim Ihud to Beit Terezin, the Terezin Martyrs Remembrance Association, to learn about the history of the camp and its inhabitants. “The staff there has been wonderful,” Trapido shares. “They’ve been answering our emails with all of our questions. The children have been keeping diaries about their experiences. All of the characters are based on real children, so for the child actors, this has been a real educational experience. That’s something we really value for this to be an educational experience for the actors as well as the audience. There is a lot that I didn’t know and that I’ve learned. There was an opera written by the inmates of Terezin that was actually performed. The children would put on this opera around Purim time every year. For me as an opera singer, that was very interesting. The fact that music was being written and performed during this time is incredible; it shows what people are capable of doing.”
A cast comprised mostly of children poses its challenges as well, but director Malka Abrams has worked hard to interact with each on their own level. Abrams has helped them bring their characters to life through improvisation and other organic acting methods. The result is a production that is as authentic as possible. Abrams created a space where the children could perform and also learn. To this end, the J-Town Playhouse team was careful not to cast too young due to the heavy subject matter.
“I’ve known Malka for many years in the performing community and always thought that she was very talented in her own right, so it was a nobrainer to choose her as director,” Trapido adds. “We knew that she was the person who could bring this show to life.”
Holocaust Remembrance Day is a solemn time for Jews in Israel and everywhere. I Never Saw Another Butterfly offers theatergoers the chance to remember, as well as be inspired.
16 IN JERUSALEM | APRIL 5 , 2018 HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY “I think Yom Hashoah has ramifications for any Jew,” Trapido says. “We were all affected; we all lost roots or branches of our family trees. Nobody came out of that untouched. But out of the ashes of the Holocaust, we have our state. It wasn’t a result of the Holocaust, but it certainly was a foundation for the State of Israel. With the loss of six million Jews, there was a great urge to build a country of our own with defensible borders where we take care of our own. I think something that links all of that together is the children. “Everything that we do and build is not for us; it’s for the future. The loss of so many beautiful souls spurns us on so that it won’t happen again. We want to provide them with a country of their own. This is an inspiring evening for people to come, not to see the death and destruction, but rather the hope. Everything is based on teaching our children. We just had the Passover Seder, which is all about teaching children about the past and looking ahead to the future. It’s important to learn where we come from and also to forge a future.”
I Never Saw Another Butterfly will run for eight performances at the AACI Theater. Opening night is on April 11, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The evening will begin with a ceremony honoring the children of the Holocaust before the performance. The remaining seven shows will run from April 12 to 26. For more information or to purchase tickets: