The butterfly is a symbol of freedom, soaring colorfully, magically above our trouble-laden world. After the publication of the famous poem written by a child in Theresienstadt searching for another butterfly after he had seen the very last one, it has evoked for many an image of the elusive freedom denied to children caught in Hitler’s grip during the terrible years of Holocaust. The Holocaust Museum of Houston’s Butterfly Project also memorializes children lost in Shoah using butterflies as image of freedom and hope. In this beautifully illustrated and touchingly told story, the butterfly once again appears as a symbol of carefree days filled with color and light in the childhood memory of a survivor named Renee Rosenberg Danziger.
Renee recalls a charmed, golden childhood in Hungary, watching butterflies in her grandmother’s garden, dancing in a butterfly costume lovingly made by her mother, making music, playing with her cousin and enjoying nature and life on the family farm. These idyllic days were cut short by swastikas, yellow stars and ultimately Auschwitz, where fear, suffering and death were all around. But the memories of sunlight, flitting butterflies and the joys that could be found in her imagination couldn’t be destroyed by the Nazis. Visions of those colorful butterflies and the sounds of the music in nature were still alive inside Renee’s head and heart and they gave Renee hope that one day things might improve. Renee did survive and she ultimately returned to the world of gardens, sunlight and butterflies which she now enjoys with her children and grandchildren. Her message to the children of today is to use their imaginations. It is vitally important, she feels. It is a means of hope and optimism, come what may.
This uplifting book has full-page illustrations in soft, appealing colors which perfectly accent the book’s message and give an excellent feeling of time and place. It includes a short biography of Renee and a notation that one of the co-authors is her daughter. It includes a black and white photograph of Renee’s sister, Lilli, who did not survive the Holocaust. In this photograph, Lilli is wearing a butterfly costume like the one Renee describes in the story. This photograph was the inspiration for the writing of the book.
Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.
Michal Hoschander Malen is the editor of Jewish Book Council’s young adult and children’s book reviews. She has lectured on a variety of topics relating to children and books and her greatest joy is reading to her grandchildren on both sides of the ocean. Michal lives in Great Neck, NY and Efrat, Israel.