I Never Saw Another Butterfly

Citation metadata

Editor: Sara Constantakis
Date: 2010
Drama for Students
From: Drama for Students(Vol. 27. )
Publisher: Gale, part of Cengage Group
Document Type: Character overview; Critical essay; Work overview; Biography; Plot summary
Pages: 17
Content Level: (Level 4)

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I Never Saw Another Butterfly



After coming across a book of poems and drawings created by children of the Holocaust concentration camps, Celeste Raspanti wrote the play I Never Saw Another Butterfly in 1967. Officially published in 1971 and presented as a one-act cutting in 1980, the drama is based on the true story of survivor Raja Englanderova.

Raja was one of 15,000 children under the age of fifteen to enter the gates of Terezin, a Nazi concentration camp located in Czechoslovakia (now divided into the two nations the Czech Republic and Slovakia). Raspanti brings to life the experiences of all those children by holding a magnifying glass to the experience of just one.

Terezin was created as a "model camp," one designed to fool outsiders—particularly the International Red Cross—into thinking the Jews were being treated humanely throughout the Holocaust. Most adults who entered the camp were intellectuals, artists, and scholars. The children of Terezin were encouraged to create. They wrote poetry, played music, drew, and painted pictures. When Terezin was liberated, six thousand poems and drawings previously hidden were discovered. Some of those works were compiled into a book called I Never Saw Another Butterfly by Hana Volavkova. The book inspired Raspanti to translate the children's art into drama.

The one-act play investigates the topics of death and victimization while exploring themes of the true meaning of survival and what is required to hope in the face of despair.

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Raspanti was born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1928. The youngest of three children born to Italian immigrant parents, Raspanti grew up in a close extended family. After winning a writing contest in 1943 at her Catholic girls' high school, she knew she wanted to be a writer. Her plans changed when, in 1946, she entered a convent and became a nun. Though she maintained a love of writing, her focus changed to teaching.

Raspanti graduated from Milwaukee, Wisconsin's Alverno College with a bachelor's degree in English in 1950 and earned her master's degree, also in English, from Marquette University seven years later. While working on her master's degree, she taught high school in Illinois and Wisconsin until accepting a job as an English professor at Alverno, where she remained until 1969. At that time, Raspanti moved to Minnesota and earned a Ph.D. in theater arts from the University of Minnesota-Minneapolis.

In 1963, Raspanti came across a book of drawings made by children of the Terezin concentration camp from 1942 to 1944. By the end of the book, she was speechless. The last section of the book listed the names, birth dates, and transport dates of each child, as well as the date each died at Auschwitz. After reading the phrase "perished at Auschwitz" on page after page of listed names, Raspanti was startled to read "Raja Englanderova, after the liberation, returned to Prague."

In her essay "Where Does a Play Begin?" Raspanti remembers, "At that moment I knew I was committed to these children…. My first reaction to the story of the Terezin children was silence. My second reaction was the inability to keep silent." Four years later, Raspanti traveled to Prague to meet Terezin survivor Raja Englanderova. On that same trip, she visited two of the most notorious death camps, Auschwitz and Dachau.

Raspanti's travel and research resulted in the play I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Though not officially published until 1971, the show opened in 1967 under the title A Place of Springs and was produced and performed by Alverno's theater department. Milwaukee's Jewish community paid to fly Raja to Milwaukee for the premier of the play. The one-act version of that same play was published in 1980. A sequel, The Terezin Promise, was published in 2004.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Raspanti held various teaching and consulting positions at Minnesota universities and colleges. No Fading Star, also about the Holocaust, was published in 1979. In 1993, she helped the Saint Paul Seminary plan and produce events to commemorate the institution's one hundredth anniversary. Raspanti retired in 1995.

Writing constituted a major part of Raspanti's life, both before and after retirement. She has published many other dramatic scripts as well, including a stage adaptation of Vera and Bill Cleaver's classic novel Where the Lilies Bloom. In addition to her plays, Raspanti has written and published numerous articles for academic and professional journals.

Since retirement, Raspanti has been a driving force in the Italian community of the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. In addition to serving on several civic boards, she publishes Notizie: An E-mail Newsletter for Italian Americans, Italians and Italophiles and belongs to numerous Italian cultural and historical organizations.


I Never Saw Another Butterfly opens with a voice announcing the names, ages, and death dates of the children of Terezin. An older Raja appears and explains that all her family and friends have been murdered by the Nazis. The Loudspeaker then narrates a series of events: Nazis enter Prague on March 5, 1939. Jewish children are banned from elementary schools on December 1, 1939. Auschwitz is ready for prisoners on September 27, 1941. Terezin is set up as a walled Jewish ghetto/concentration camp on October 16, 1941.

Irena Synkova, self-appointed caretaker of the camp's children, meets twelve-year-old Raja as she first enters Terezin. They befriend one another, and Irena invites Raja to attend the makeshift school she has set up. There the children draw, paint, and write.

Various children share their visions of what they plan to do when they escape the ghetto. Their plans reveal that what they miss most are the simple things: curtains on windows, playing ball, making their beds, or staying up late. Raja sums up what every child knows, "Before, when I Page 136  |  Top of Article used to live at home, / It never seemed so dear and fair."

Irena and Raja talk about Auschwitz. Raja knows those who go never come back. Her good friend Zdenka is transported to Auschwitz, as are others. Raja misses her friends and hates life inside Terezin. She cries, and Irena calms her by grabbing her hands. It is a turning point in the play, as it is the moment in time when Raja leaves behind her childhood to face the horrifying reality of her life.

Irena tells her, "You are no longer a child—this minute, you are no longer a child—and so I tell you …" Irena shares the fact that her own nine-year-old daughter was torn from her arms and thrown from the moving train. She wanted to die, so intense was her grief. Then Irena found purpose in Terezin, where she willingly takes responsibility for the children. Raja weeps but finds strength in Irena's story.

Raja meets Honza as both watch the train carrying Jiri, Honza's brother, out of Terezin. Raja's brother Pavel and his wife Irca are on the same train. Honza tells Raja about a newspaper he and his friends produce and distribute through the boys' side of the camp. Raja asks Honza to send over a copy to post in the girls' section. Vedem, their newspaper, which means "We are leading," survives for three years, and eventually the girls are allowed to publish poetry in it. The newspaper serves as the communication line between both sides of the camp.

Honza and Raja grow closer as the months pass. They meet in secret and sometimes in the work fields, where they hide small presents for one another. Honza tells Raja that the flowers growing in front of the main tower are hers, that he's giving them to her. She gives him a poem. He sneaks a sausage from the kitchen for her.

Honza tells Raja he is going away for a few days. He's been assigned to a special detail to build something outside of Terezin. Raja worries that Honza will not return, but he does.

Raja confides in Irena that she was afraid while Honza was gone. She said if he failed to return, part of her would always be waiting. Irena tells Raja that the key to surviving is to make the waiting bearable by breaking it into small time increments. If Raja can do that, she can survive, as Irena has done. She explains, "One of us must teach the children how to sing again, to write on paper with a pencil, to do sums and draw pictures. So we survive each today…."

Another train whistle blows, and a voice over the loudspeaker announces more names and ages of children who died at Auschwitz. Honza is among them. In a flashback scene, Raja talks with Honza from across the wall. They cannot see one another, and he tells her he has to report for the next transport out of Terezin. They both know what awaits him. Honza tells her he wrote her a poem and left it under the fence post.

Raja reads the poem, the last two lines of which are, "But you were too lovely, perhaps, to stay. / I loved you once. Good-bye, my love." Raja says the motto of Terezin is "good-bye," that it was, for those who lived there, freedom. "What was there to fear when you had said good-bye to everyone you ever loved?"

Irena is called to transport before she can say goodbye to Raja. She leaves a note for her instead. Accompanying the note is the last of the children's drawings and poems, which she has asked Raja to bury along with all the rest. "I have nothing else to give you but this—what you and all the children have made of Terezin—the fields, the flowers—and all the butterflies…."

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  • I Never Saw Another Butterfly, adapted as a musical by Joseph Robinette with music by E. A. Alexander, was published by Dramatic Publishing in 2007.

Raja remembers all the important things the people she loved in Terezin had told her over the years. The voices speak to her as she faces the audience one last time. This time she says, "My name is Raja—I am a Jew; I survived Terezin—not alone, and not afraid." Her experience in Terezin, as horrifying as it was, made her stronger and forged in her a will to survive.

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Raja Englanderova

Raja Englanderova is the main character in the play. She enters Terezin as a twelve-year-old girl. Raja narrates the story, and the audience sees the story unfold through her eyes. In real life, Raja was one of the few children to survive Terezin.

Raja is the first character other than the Loudspeaker to speak in the play. When the first flashback occurs, she is timid and new to Terezin. As her character grows and the story unfolds, Raja is strengthened and nurtured by her relationships with Irena and Honza. By the play's end, the child Raja is alone but no longer afraid. Raja the adult narrator is defiant in her survival.


Honza is the brother of the late Jiri, who was Raja's friend. Honza and Raja grow close and fall in love. Honza gives Raja hope for a brighter future because he gives her something to hope for.

Honza brings an energy to the play no other character provides. It is he who helps publish the camp newspaper. He is the character who notices the flowers and the butterflies in the commons. Honza sneaks food to Raja. He leaves her poetry and holds secret meetings with his fellow inmates. Honza continues to find ways to actually experience life within the ghetto's walls.


The Loudspeaker is a voice that announces the names and death dates of the children of Terezin. It also provides timelines of major events pertaining to the children during the war. The Loudspeaker is used as means of providing important background information.

Irena Synkova

Irena Synkova is one of the first inhabitants of Terezin. She takes responsibility for the children and organizes them into a school. Irena's top priority is keeping each child alive both physically and spiritually.

Irena is the first person to speak to Raja at the beginning of the play, and her voice is the last one Raja hears at the end. It is Irena who draws Raja out of herself and tries to ease her fear. Irena encourages Raja to be enthusiastic about the secret school, and soon Raja credits the school and Irena with helping her heal. Irena, without trying, acts as a sort of surrogate parent, teacher, and friend for Raja.


The four youth are various children who live at Terezin. Each child has a different vision of what life will be like once he is able to return home. In the final scene of the play, the ghosts of the children speak to Raja of a memory from her time in the camp. The youth represent all the children of Terezin.



As one of the play's major themes, survival of both the body and spirit is woven throughout the dialogue. Although Raja is the only character in the play to physically survive the imprisonment at Terezin, Irena represents the importance of spiritual survival. Having had her young daughter tossed from a moving train before her very eyes, Irena knows that in order to survive, one must find purpose. For her, that purpose involves making meaning out of horror for the children of Terezin.

Irena is the one who teaches Raja how to survive. She coaches Raja to imagine living until the morning, then, try to make it to noon. "Can you live until night?" she asks. In response to Raja's comment that she had been waiting for Honza to return from a special detail, Irena says, "Waiting days are long days, Raja. You would learn to stop thinking of tomorrow and to keep alive today. That's the secret of waiting—remember that—to keep alive today."

Late in the play, Irena speaks to Raja about the importance of someone surviving, of getting through each day, so that the children can relearn how to sing, write, and compute math facts. Key to survival at Terezin was the children's schooling. Raja says, "The singing, the reading, the learning—the poetry and the drawings—this was part of our survival." The idea that surviving goes beyond not dying, that it is achieved through spiritual nourishment, sensual experience, is clear.


The story revolves around prisoners of a concentration camp who have had nearly every civil and personal right revoked. To outsiders, their Page 138  |  Top of Article freedom appears to have been stripped away. While in one sense this is true—no one has the freedom to leave Terezin, to speak out against the way they are treated, or even to learn—in another, they are completely free.

The newspaper Vedem, which means "we are leading," is a form of stolen freedom. Although the boys must meet in secret to write and publish it, and it must be passed around in secret, it is a form of expression. It is a voice, many voices—voices of children who refuse to be silenced. If freedom will not be given, they will steal it. Raja explains the importance of the paper. "It was an invisible line of communication between the houses so that … the youth of Terezin grew up together."

Near the end of the story, Raja claims that "goodbye" is the motto of Terezin. "It was goodbye, not work, that made us free." For Raja, the sole survivor in the play, freedom comes only when there is nothing left to lose or fear.


Memory and remembering give the prisoners of Terezin a sense of control in a lifestyle that offers very little. The purpose of concentration camps was to facilitate eradication of the Jewish race from the planet; Hitler wanted no evidence of Jewish existence left behind. By exercising their memories, sharing their stories, and writing them down, those victimized by the Holocaust created a legacy that no effort could destroy.

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  • Find a book on butterflies. Cut out the shape of a butterfly from construction paper and design and decorate it using both images from the book and themes and images from the play. Present your finished butterfly to the class and explain why you designed it the way you did.
  • Imagine you are a child at Terezin, using additional research about the camp from Web sites or print sources. Together with a small group of classmates, write, illustrate, edit, and produce a four-page newspaper like Vedem. Do not use a computer to complete this project; everything must be done by hand. What kind of "news" would you publish? How would you decide what to include? Share the newspaper with your class.
  • Read the young-adult book Remembering Manzanar: Life in a Japanese Relocation Camp. Both Terezin and Manzanar existed in the 1940s, one in America and one in Prague. In what ways are the camps similar? How do they differ? Make a list. Then write a paragraph to answer this question: If you had to choose which camp to live in, which one would you choose and why?
  • Research Terezin using Web sites and at least two hard-copy sources. Develop a presentation using PowerPoint or another computer program and share with the class what you learned.
  • Read the full-length version of the play and write an essay explaining how it differs from the one-act version. Which version do you prefer and why?
  • Read the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944, which inspired Raspanti to write the play by the same name. Choose a favorite poem and share it with the class.
  • Research Terezin and Auschwitz. Create a Venn diagram to show how they were similar and how they differed.

Memory is a powerful healing tool for Raja. She credits Irena's school with her personal healing. Months pass inside Terezin before Raja can find the courage to say anything but her name. Using paint, she commits her name to paper in

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Terezin concentration camp Terezin concentration camp (Image copyright Martin D. Vonka, 2009. Used under license from Shutterstock.com)

"crippled characters" and one day writes Irena's name. That is the sign that she is healed. "I could tell Irena the things I was remembering. I was no longer afraid to remember."

Memory as a theme is woven throughout many productions of the play in stage setting as well. In various scenes, images painted and drawn by the real children of Terezin appear on a projection screen, visible to the audience but not as a part of the actual action of the scene. The play opens with images of butterflies projected over the entire stage. It ends with yet more butterflies, this time on the screen, on the floor of the stage: everywhere. The butterflies are moving.


Memory Play

Memory is relied upon as a narrative device to tell a non-linear (not chronologically in order) tale. Through the power of memory, characters are developed in both obvious and subtle ways.

In choosing to present Raja's story as a memory play, Raspanti has given it a more personal and immediate feel. She is not merely relating a story; she is having the character who lived the experience share her perspective of what happened. Knowing the events played out on stage truly happened to one of the characters makes the drama more powerful.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly is an inherently tragic story. Most viewers in the audience or readers of the play already understand the basic background of the Holocaust: six million Jews and members of other persecuted groups were murdered by Hitler's Nazi regime. Those who entered Terezin suffered the same fate as other Jews. That information does not need to be stressed because it is already known.

This knowledge is important to Raspanti's play because the audience brings to it a collective understanding of the general cultural and social circumstances of the time period. This allows them to focus on the memory perspective without intrusion, in essence, to remember that what is being heard and seen is one person's very Page 140  |  Top of Article distinct memory of the event. Someone else who survived Terezin might have had a very different experience and memory. The memory as structural element makes the play unique, which in turn makes it genuine.

The tragedy of the story is presented all the more powerfully because it is understated. Readers and viewers never see torture or violence, but the fact that the residents of Terezin simply disappear as a matter of daily routine illustrates the horrific conditions under which they lived. That they must sneak around in order to learn, that they cannot communicate freely with others in the compound, that privacy no longer exists—all this implies the harsh and unyielding life circumstances of the children and adults of Terezin.

Because the play is told as a memory and not a frame-by-frame narrative, Raja does not need to stress the violence. It is implied and assumed. Had the play been written to include that aspect, it might have detracted from the more intense and powerful message Raspanti wanted to convey: that people can overcome and triumph in even the most harrowing of situations.


Raspanti makes use of flashback throughout the play as Raja speaks to the audience, narrating the story. All action except for Raja's narrative monologues are actually flashbacks in time. When the play opens, Raja speaks to the audience, explaining that she—and only she—survived Terezin. The next person to speak is Irena, who died in Terezin. So the audience understands that the action and scenes they are watching are, in reality, flashbacks.


The most obvious symbol in the play is the butterfly, which represents hope and freedom. The title of the play is also the title of a poem written by a child who lived in Terezin. The last butterfly this child ever saw was a dazzling yellow color, and it flew up into the sky until it could no longer be seen. Since entering Terezin, the boy could find no butterflies. The last lines of his poem say:

Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live here in the ghetto.

The way butterflies flit and flutter makes them seem carefree, the way children should be. But the children of Terezin are prisoners, and the only freedom they come to know is death.

Another symbol in the play is the act of creating. In a world where learning and creating is forbidden, to do so is an act of defiance. Amidst death and the revocation of rights, the children manage to create poetry and paintings, a symbol of their defiance against oppression. In the real Terezin, those creations were made over the course of two years, and around six thousand of them were hidden for safekeeping. In the play, the drawings depict both the world the children have left behind and the reality in which they are living.


The History of Terezin

Of the six million Jews put to death in the Holocaust, more than one million were children under the age of sixteen. Like their adult counterparts, these young people were tortured, starved, and worked to death in camps like Dachau, Buchenwald, and Auschwitz. Terezin was unlike these other camps. Originally built in 1780 by Emperor Joseph II of Austria, Terezin included the Big Fortress and the Small Fortress. As Hitler's troops invaded Europe, it was decided the town would be used to house Jews. The first transport arrived in November 1941.

Terezin was originally home to about seven thousand residents. The Nazis needed it to hold between 35,000 and 60,000 people. Jews were brought in to transform the town even while residents remained living there. Eventually, all residents were evicted and nearly 60,000 Jews were forced to live in cramped quarters that promoted disease.

On the outside, Terezin looked like a peaceful village, similar to those found throughout the European countryside. But behind the façade lay a concentration camp, one filled primarily with artists, intellectuals, and musicians. Inmates were separated into camps according to gender. Life in Terezin soon became focused on transports to Auschwitz; those who left never returned. Terezin did not have its own gas chambers, only a crematorium to burn the corpses of those who had died from other causes.

The first Danish Jews arrived in Terezin in October 1943. When the Danish and Swedish Red Cross began asking to know their whereabouts, Hitler permitted them to visit Terezin in an effort to prove that Jews were being treated

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  • 1940s: World War II and the Holocaust are in full swing, and the events depicted in Raspanti's play are taking place. The world is unaware of the concentration and death camps. Either because it is too horrible to believe or because they truly do not know, people around the world are ignorant to the plight of the Jews and other victims of the Holocaust.

    1970s: Thirty years have passed and the world acknowledges the horrors of the Holocaust. The 1970s is a decade in which sociologists begin to more fully understand the atrocities committed during World War II and the subsequent psychological impact those atrocities had, not only on individuals, but on society as a whole. "Holocaust" becomes a term written with a capital "H" in the 1970s. Publication of Holocaust literature is at an all-time high.

    Today: The atrocities of the Holocaust are no less horrific in the early twenty-first century than they were upon their discovery. Millions of people visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., every year. More people recognize the importance of recording the personal stories of survivors of the Holocaust, because even those who were children at the time are now in their sixties and seventies. As memory becomes fuzzy with age, it is important to document the stories and preserve them.

  • 1940s: The Nuremberg trials take place in Nuremberg, Germany, from 1945 to 1946. Among others, twenty-two of the most important captured leaders of Nazi Germany are tried for war crimes. There are many trials prosecuted in Nuremberg, and the majority of them result in guilty verdicts with a sentence of life imprisonment or death.

    1970s: As they are discovered living in various countries throughout the world, Nazi war criminals continue to be tried and sentenced for their crimes.

    Today: Nazi war crimes suspect Ivan "John" Demjanjuk is found living in Ohio in May 2009. He is deported to Germany, where he will stand trial. As reported on CNN.com, this ends one of the longest-running pursuits of an alleged Holocaust criminal in history. The media is calling Demjanjuk the last Nazi war criminal.

  • 1940s: Throughout Britain and Germany, children are being evacuated, especially from cities targeted by the Allies. Millions of children are accommodated in rural regions for the duration of the war. American children are little affected by World War II except for the absence of fathers and brothers. Many mothers now work outside the home.

    1970s: East German children spend a great deal of time in state institutions because economic hardships have forced fathers and mothers into full-time work. Institutionalized children lead structured lives with strict discipline. By the end of the decade, all of Germany has outlawed spanking children in schools. American children are growing up with an anti-war movement in full stride and a mandatory busing policy to help achieve racial integration in the schools. It is a time of great social unrest.

    Today: The German government bans the use of physical punishment in child rearing. In America, spanking is still legal in some localities, although some legislators have proposed bills to change that.

humanely. To that end, he ordered the camp to be improved by adding turf, a playground, sports fields, and flowers, among other things. None of these additions were ever actually used by inmates. On the day the Red Cross visited, the Nazis made sure to line the approved route with workers who sang while they toiled. It was all a ruse.

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Terezin concentration camp memorial Terezin concentration camp memorial (Image copyright Martin D. Vonka, 2009. Used under license from Shutterstock.com)

According to survivors, the community inside Terezin shared a sense of family, probably because tens of thousands of people were sharing living quarters built for only thousands. They were cramped, and they relied upon one another for their very survival. More than any other camp, Terezin developed a rich cultural life. Musicians formed symphonies and gave concerts. Actors performed plays, and writers gave lectures. Because learning itself was forbidden, adults schooled the children at night. During that time, they were encouraged to draw, paint, and write using supplies stolen by some of the adult inmates.

Despite the horrible living conditions and constant state of fear in which the prisoners of Terezin lived, they had the vision to realize the historical and cultural value of the children's artwork and poetry. Six thousand such pieces were hidden and then reclaimed after the war. Some of those works comprise the book that inspired Celeste Raspanti to write her play.


Raspanti joined a league of highly respected writers who contributed to the ever-growing body of Holocaust literature when she wrote her play, I Never Saw Another Butterfly. Although she was not a Holocaust survivor, Raspanti met Raja Englanderova and interviewed her extensively. She flew to Europe and toured the death camps. With the knowledge she gained on her travels, she was able to write a convincingly real drama of life in Terezin.

Her contribution to Holocaust literature was rather unique at the time it was written because most of what was published in the 1970s and early 1980s was from the viewpoint of adult survivors. The voices of the child victims were rarely heard.


I Never Saw Another Butterfly is the play for which Celeste Raspanti is best known. Although the full-length version was published first, the one-act drama is most often performed.

In her theater review for the Orlando Sentinel, critic Rebecca Swain praises the play for its power. "Celeste Raspanti's powerful one-act play gives the children of Terezin voice again, a strong one, and honors their brief lives."

Raspanti's personal interest in the Holocaust has been fueled by visits to the death camps and friendships with survivors. I Never Saw Another Butterfly is one of three dramas centered on Holocaust stories. The play is regularly performed in high schools and community theaters across the country decades after its debut. When Florida passed a law requiring all schools to teach the Holocaust, Charlotte High School theater director Ray Durkee chose I Never Saw Another Butterfly as a vehicle for learning. In Jay Roland's review in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Durkee explains, "I like to select plays that can be integrated into the classroom and the curriculum."


Rebecca Valentine

Valentine is a freelance writer who holds a B.A. in English with minors in philosophy and professional communications. In this essay, she focuses on the Page 143  |  Top of Article role of memory as an act of resistance in Raspanti's memory play I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

After World War II, playwrights began experimenting with the concept of memory as a narrative device. In analyzing Holocaust literature collectively, many critics have explored the role of memory in reshaping individual identity. In her one-act play I Never Saw Another Butterfly, Celeste Raspanti uses memory not only as a narrative tool, but as a sort of character. The play is written using memory; it is about memory; it is based on memory.

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  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, originally published in 1947, is the memoir of a Jewish teenager who goes into hiding for twenty-five months with her family and some friends. The 1993 edition contains 30 percent more text than the original, which had been edited to protect Anne's privacy. Anne died at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp just three months before her sixteenth birthday.
  • PBS has developed a special project titled Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State available at http://www.pbs.org/auschwitz. In addition to a timeline and a list of resources for educators, the site provides original maps and plans of the era's most infamous concentration camp.
  • Philip Gourevitch's We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda (1999) is an exploration of the Rwandan genocide. This thoroughly researched investigation presents a graphic depiction of the horrors and atrocities imposed upon the Tutsi by the Hutus. Gourevitch strives to explain why this conflict should not be considered just another tribal war.
  • Anne Fox and Eva Abraham-Podietz have written Ten Thousand Children: True Stories Told by Children Who Escaped the Holocaust on the Kindertransport (1998). The Kindertransport rescued ten thousand Jewish children from the Nazi-occupied Europe. Only one thousand were reunited with their families. This book contains the experiences of twenty-one survivors.
  • Parallel Journeys, written by Eleanor Ayer, Helen Waterford, and Alfons Heck and published in 2000, is the story of two youths who grew up during World War II. One is a German Jew, the other a Hitler Youth. Their stories are taken from true memoirs, and the juxtaposition of the two contrasts the perceptions of the Nazis with those of the Jews during the Holocaust experience.
  • The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a Web site that features Holocaust history in various languages. Although http://www.ushmm.org/ supports the actual museum (located in Washington, D.C.), it is also a clearinghouse for information and events pertaining to the Holocaust.
  • Thomas Fuchs's book A Concise Biography of Adolf Hitler (2000) provides insight into Hitler the man. Written in the style and format of an encyclopedia, the book dispels some of the legends surrounding Hitler and paints a well-rounded picture, not only of Hitler as a leader, but as a German citizen and fallible human.

Resistance is the willful action of opposing something. During the Holocaust, there were formal, organized resistance movements to help Jews and others escape persecution. These movements were much like the Underground Railroad used to help African Americans escape slavery in the nineteenth century. But resistance took a much more subtle—yet no less powerful—role throughout the Holocaust and beyond. I Never Saw Another Butterfly was written in the form of a memory play, that is, it uses memory and memories as a method of narrating the story. It mixes Page 144  |  Top of Article fact with fiction to present a version of a particular historical event.

Raspanti could have written the play without incorporating memory into its structure. She could have presented the exact same story as a simple narrative, without the use of flashback or non-linear presentation. Raja would still have been the main character, but her role as narrator would not exist. Instead, Raspanti gives power to Raja's story by constantly reminding the audience that they are viewing the authentic memories of Raja.

The play opens with Raja directly addressing the audience. She introduces herself and lets viewers know she is the only member of her family and friends to have survived Terezin. From there the audience is transported back in time to Terezin and the day Raja meets Irena Synkova. The entire play is a series of flashbacks—memories—with Raja breaking out of those flashbacks here and there to narrate or explain.

This incorporation of memory into the structure of the play is a formidable show of resistance on Raspanti's behalf. She is refusing to remain silent about the experiences of the children of Terezin. The very act of writing the play is an act of resistance; presenting it as a memory is even more so.

The characters in I Never Saw Another Butterfly are imprisoned, their most basic rights revoked. On the surface, they appear powerless. And on one level, they are. But on another level, they hold all the power because they possess something even the Nazis cannot take away: memory.

When Raja becomes overwhelmed with the living conditions and the knowledge that those she loves are being transported to certain death at Auschwitz, Irena tells her to remember: "Do not forget how you worked together—in this very room—and the poems, and the songs." The power and importance of memory is again emphasized when Raja laments, "There was no one who could remember me before I had come here as a child of twelve."

Memory also plays a major role in the relationship between Honza and Raja. When Honza learns he is to be transported to Auschwitz, he tells Raja of the poem he wrote for her. The poem begins, "Memory, come tell a fairy tale / About my girl who's lost and gone." Honza knows that memory is all Raja will soon have left of the bond they shared.

In the closing scene of the play, Raja has come to understand that memory alone will keep those she loved alive in her heart. Though their lives were taken, she resists letting go completely by wrapping them in memory. "Mother, Father, Pavel, Irca. I hear you. Honza, I hear and I remember … Irena Synkova, I remember."

The memories the children depict in their drawings and paintings, in the poems they write—these are all acts of resistance. Though the Nazis tear them from their homes and families, memories comfort the children, and they conjure them in their minds to have strength to forge through another day of grief and desperation.

After the war, survivors returned to Terezin to collect the six thousand drawings, paintings, and poems made by the children who lived there. Someone had the amazing clarity to understand even in those horrendous circumstances that what those children created would serve as their legacy, a reminder that they had indeed existed, dreamed, remembered, and suffered. Hiding those memories and depictions of life in the ghetto was an act of resistance. By protecting those creations, the oppressed preserved memories, which in turn are now displayed in books and exhibits for the entire world to see. Those memories resisted Hitler's attempts to wipe an entire race of people from the face of the earth.

Finally, in watching a performance—or reading—Raspanti's play, the audience is acknowledging a particular set of memories of the Holocaust. By willingly exposing themselves to those memories, they are resisting the easier alternative of ignoring the abominable ugliness of history and the inhumane atrocities committed against millions of innocent people. In effect, the memories of a survivor become the memories of a current generation.

Memory is as inseparable from the Holocaust as horror. It takes on political, cultural, and social dimensions that, altogether, help develop an understanding of the psychological repercussions of the war-time tragedy. Celeste Raspanti recognized the importance of memory as resistance as she wrote her play. She insured the audience understood that importance as well by ending with a powerful scene in which Raja embraces remembrance. In that embrace lies the power to overcome.

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The museum exhibit I Never Saw Another Butterfly The museum exhibit "I Never Saw Another Butterfly" (Graeme Robertson / Getty Images)

Source: Rebecca Valentine, Critical Essay on I Never Saw Another Butterfly, in Drama for Students, Gale, Cengage Learning, 2010.

Douglas J. Guth

In the following review, Guth talks about the use of the play to raise funds to preserve the Terezin Museum.

College of Wooster students Lindsay Horst and Becki Dieleman both grew up in small, fairly affluent towns. Horst, 20, is a Wooster native, while Dieleman, also 20, was raised in the upper-middle class comfort of Holland, Mich.

Both young women have noticed an unfortunate side effect of small-town life: Too many people, they say, don't look beyond the borders of the United States, or even those of their hometowns. "In my high school, the world view is only what's around you—cell phones, clothes and boys," says Dieleman in a recent phone interview from her dorm.

The two friends are doing their small part to try and widen that view. They hope to increase awareness of human rights while preserving a piece of history through The Terezin Relief Project, a plan to raise $5,000 to help restore the Terezin Memorial and Museum.

The museum, located in the small town of Terezin in the Czech Republic (about 60 kilometers from Prague), suffered $2 million worth of damage during the floods that deluged Eastern Europe last year. Extensive damage to the grounds and several exhibits forced closure of portions of the museum.

During World War II, Terezin served as a Jewish ghetto and concentration camp. The ghetto was a holding place for Jews before they were sent to Auschwitz as part of Adolf Hitler's "final solution." Among these Jews were approximately 15,000 children. Of that group, only about 100 lived to see the end of the war. Terezin has since been turned into a memorial and museum that teaches visitors about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the value of human life.

The children who passed through Terezin are the subject of an upcoming production by the Wooster High School Drama Club; it's a stage Page 146  |  Top of Article adaptation of Celeste Raspanti's book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children's Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944. The play, scheduled for April 11-12, tells their story through poems and artwork that survived the war.

Dieleman is directing Butterfly while Horst is busy publicizing it. The duo hopes to raise a significant portion of their $5,000 museum restoration fund through box-office sales. They have raised $900 so far through individual donations.

Raising money is only part of their plan. Neither Horst nor Dieleman is Jewish, and they believe study of the Holocaust should emphasize people over religion.

"This isn't about our religion or family backgrounds," remarks Horst, a first-year student at Wooster. "Jews were targeted and exterminated for nothing more than being Jewish, and that's what we want people to realize. Our goal is to make the audience see that people are people, no matter how different they seem."

However, "the Holocaust was not just a crime against the Jewish people, it was a crime against all humanity," Horst continues, citing the millions of non-Jewish Poles, Serbs, homosexuals and other so-called "undesirables" who perished. "We want the audience to really feel for the people portrayed, not because they share a common experience or a common background, but because they are people, too."

Butterfly focuses on a girl named Raja, who narrates the tale with flashbacks of her home life in Prague before the war, followed by her grim existence in the Terezin ghetto. "This play is a voice for people like her," taking the Shoah (Holocaust) beyond mere facts and numbers seen in history books, says Dieleman, who also directed and acted in a production of Butterfly at her Michigan high school.

A second-year history/pre-law major with a minor in theater, Dieleman wanted to direct the play ever since seeing an adaptation of it her junior year in high school. She traveled with her businessman father, Dale, to Prague during her senior year, and visited the Terezin site where so many suffered.

She saw the overcrowded quarters, the crematorium, and a Jewish cemetery where each marker represented the ashes of 300 people.

Even more affecting were the mixed images of hope and despair, reflected in the artwork and writings of Terezin's children, which Dieleman saw in the museum: Pencil and watercolor pictures depict work brigades, threatening guards, and deportations the children witnessed. Other drawings show a lighted menorah and figures scaling mountain peaks to liberation. Much of their children's poetry was about returning home or the bleakness of their current situation.

The innocence of these works made an impression on Dieleman. "It was all so honest—these kids were too young to be jaded," she says.

Horst had never heard of Terezin until she met Dieleman at the beginning of the school year. They became fast friends and, on a whim, they went to Wooster High School to ask if they could put on the play. To their surprise, their request was granted immediately. The time since has been spent gathering young actors from the high school, and both young women are excited about opening the show next weekend.

They know how easy it is to get angry about what went on in Terezin. But "only by appreciating what happened to people in the Holocaust can we prevent such atrocities in the future," Horst notes. "If the audience sees people just like them murdered for no other crime than being who they were, they can see why promoting tolerance and understanding is such an important cause."

Source: Douglas J. Guth, "Another Butterfly Taking Wing in Wooster: College Students Raise Funds for Terezin Museum, Promote Tolerance with Production of Play," in Cleveland Jewish News, Vol. 88, No. 1, April 4, 2003, p. 32.

Suzanne Weiss

In the following review, Weiss discusses the effect of the play on the youth involved in its production.

An estimated 15,000 Jewish children passed through the gates of the Terezin concentration camp during the Holocaust. About 100 lived to tell the tale.

Eight East Bay youths have been struggling with those statistics in recent rehearsals for the upcoming Moraga Playhouse production of I Never Saw Another Butterfly in Orinda.

Walking around backstage, wearing ragged coats onto which yellow stars are sewn, the young actors who have grown up in Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Orinda and Berkeley acknowledge that it's sometimes hard to relate.

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"All my life I've been called Laiah and to think somebody could come in and say "Hey, Number 5074…," said 11-year-old Laiah Idelson of Walnut Creek, looking down at the number on the placard she wears around her neck as one of the camp's inmates.

Idelson, who is Jewish, has read a lot about the Holocaust. "But now I feel like this is more than just reading. This is all true," she said.

Playwright Celeste Raspanti based her reconstruction of life in Terezin on the true story of Raja Englanderova, one of the survivors of the Czechoslovakian camp. The script was augmented by the journals, poems and pictures that made Terezin's children famous in the book and touring exhibit I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

In the play, Raja journeys from childhood to adulthood, hanging onto life and her Jewish identity with courage, humor and concern for others.

Youths make up more than half the play's cast. A number of them are Jews. The playhouse specifically sought Jewish youths for the roles, sending out audition notices to synagogues, Jewish youths groups and other Jewish organizations in the East Bay.

Fourteen-year-old Alyssa Stone, who is Jewish, plays Raja. It is not an easy role for her.

"If I let myself really believe I was there, I couldn't do my lines," said Stone, of Lafayette. "I have to put this kind of transparent protective envelope around myself. I have an empathy for her, but sometimes I feel like I'm plagiarizing a pain I've only heard about."

Evan Brody, 15, of Berkeley plays Raja's boyfriend, Honza. He looks at the role with a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God attitude.

"It's hard not to let your emotions drown you out in the play," said Brody, who is Jewish. "But if my grandparents hadn't left when they did, this could have been the story of my family and I wouldn't even be here.

"It's a sad subject. But it's good in a way and happy because we can do this show for people who may never have known the stories, the poems, the songs."

One of those who might not have known is 11-year-old Josh VanLandingham of Pleasant Hill.

Josh, who is Catholic, said that studying about the Holocaust led him to audition for this show. He came to Butterfly from a production of Cinderella in Concord.

"I can relate to castles," he said. "I've seen a castle. But this is more serious."

He added that it's "kind of cool to learn about another religion though. My friend invited me to his bar mitzvah and it was good that I could go and see" what it was like.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly is Moraga Playhouse's third Holocaust-based drama in recent seasons. The playhouse, which now uses a local high school's theater for its productions, staged Kindertransport earlier this year and Diary of Anne Frank in 1995.

Playhouse founder and artistic director Cliff Beyer, however, said he isn't choosing the plays simply because they're about the Holocaust.

"It isn't necessarily so much that these are Holocaust shows but that I have a strong desire to explore man's inhumanity to man, especially in this century."

Source: Suzanne Weiss, "Young Butterfly Actors Grapple with Holocaust Theme," in Jewish Bulletin of Northern California, Vol. 102, No. 38, September 25, 1998, p. 25.

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John W. Conner

In this review, Conner describes the origin and the dramatic text of I Never Saw Another Butterfly.

Current interest in drama as a form of classroom communication has created an unprecedented demand for good plays geared to the interests and concerns of adolescents. I Never Saw Another Butterfly is a dramatization of the lives of the Jewish children of Czechoslovakia who were temporarily interned at Terezin, a stopping-off place on the way to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. Terezin was a place of false hope for these children, but it could also have been a place of terror except for the efforts of Irena Synkova, a teacher who created a school out of sheer determination and the meager materials each child brought with him to Terezin. Irena's school provided a sense of normalcy to which her adolescent pupils could cling.

The script for I Never Saw Another Butterfly was created from the poems, diaries, letters, and journals of a student who was liberated at the close of the war. In many ways the script is ideal for classroom presentation: the properties required for production are simple ones, the staging is easily adapted to a schoolroom. Most important, an understanding of the characters is within the grasp of high school students. The children of Terezin are lonely, frightened, and fearful; but they are also capable of love and respect, and they are naturally curious, and usually hopeful.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly is a dramatic tribute to the depths of human faith. This reviewer feels dramatic literature in use in schools might well concern itself with this important philosophical principle.

Source: John W. Conner, Review of I Never Saw Another Butterfly, in English Journal, Vol. 62, No. 5, May 1973, pp. 828-29.


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Boyne, John, The Boy In the Striped Pajamas (movie tie-in edition), David Fickling Books, 2008.

In 1942 Poland, nine-year-old Bruno has just moved to a new home and has no friends. Fifty feet from his home stands a barbed-wire fence that runs as far as the eye can see. Bruno watches what happens on the other side of that fence from his bedroom window and eventually befriends a young Jewish boy who lives there.

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Lowry, Lois, Number the Stars, Laurel Leaf, 1998.

This Newbery-winning novel is the story of a ten-year-old girl who risks her own life to save that of her best friend in 1943 Denmark.

Schroeder, Peter W., and Dagmar Schroeder-Hildebrand, Six Million Paper Clips: The Making of a Children's Holocaust Memorial, Kar-Ben Publishing, 2004.

The all-white Whitwell Middle School in Tennessee taught ethnic and cultural diversity by focusing on the Holocaust. In order for students to grasp how many people were murdered by the Nazis, they collected six million paper clips and stored them in a railcar. This is the story of that memorial project, complete with photographs and interviews.

Volavkova, Hana, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, Schocken, 1994.

Originally published in Czech, this English translation features the poetry and artwork of the children of Terezin Concentration Camp.

Wiesel, Elie, The Night Trilogy: Night, Dawn, Day, Hill & Wang, 2008.

First published in 1960, Night is the autobiographical account of Elie Wiesel and his father in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Dawn (1961) tells the story of a young man who survived World War II and becomes active in a Jewish underground movement. In Day, which was previously published as The Accident in 1962, Wiesel questions the limits of the human spirit.

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX2279400018