School uses buttons to commemorate 1.5 million children murdered in Holocaust

Efrat project currently consisting of 1,708,394 buttons on display was started by 19 girls in 2007.

button project 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
button project 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A school in Efrat will commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day this year with buttons - over 1.5 million of them, collected over the past two years, to memorialize the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust. "The Button Project" - currently consisting of 1,708,394 buttons, which will be on display at the Asa Hayil school on Tuesday - was originally started by 19 seventh- and eighth-grade girls in 2007. The initiative was inspired both by a film called Paper Clips, which chronicles the story of a class that collected paper clips to commemorate the lives of Holocaust victims, and a Jewish child's testimony about how buttons were valued more highly than jewelry during the Holocaust because of their use in cherished toys and warm clothes. The button team, all of whom graduated from the school and are now project representatives in their new high schools, began their extracurricular venture by writing letters to friends, family, teachers and neighbors, explaining their call for buttons. They also asked for testimonies from Holocaust survivors. From there, the project snowballed, explained Suzanne Weiss, who co-heads the project with fellow teacher Tali Samuel at Asa Hayil: "Friends sent the letter to friends, it was converted into an e-mail, and soon we were receiving buttons and letters from America, Brazil, Switzerland, Turkey and Tokyo. In some schools in Canada and Singapore, there were special educational activities about our project." The buttons will be displayed in nine giant transparent cases, to symbolize nine months of childbirth. One of these is only half full, explained Weiss, as it denotes the children not accounted for in the current 1.5-million death count. Highlights from the exhibition include a box containing 150 buttons originally sent anonymously to the project last year. After some investigations by the team, it was found that Kibbutz Lavi had sent the box on behalf of Binyamin Melachi, a Holocaust survivor who died on the kibbutz two years ago. Melachi worked in a button factory in England after the Holocaust and frequently deposited buttons he made in a box that he kept at home. Upon discovering the box in his home, the kibbutz sent it to the school for its inclusion in the collection. One button in the exhibition has a lot of significance for the community of Efrat, as it once appeared on the army uniform of Hagai Lev, a Givati Brigade soldier who died in Rafah in 2002 and who was once a pupil at Asa Chayil. Lev was sent to uncover smuggling tunnels between Egypt and the Gaza Strip in July 2002 and was hit by a sniper during the operation. His mother donated the button to the project in 2007, partly because Lev had visited Auschwitz just one week before he died. Every button has a story, explained Weiss, and it is hoped "the exhibition will teach about the subject of the Holocaust in a new and meaningful way."