GCC students give power to children of the Holocaust

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 8:53 p.m.

Taylor Hanson, no stranger to the stage after acting in several plays and musicals, knows the importance of connecting with your character.

But the lead role of Raja in Greensburg Central Catholic High School's production of “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” proved to be more challenging — and rewarding — than she anticipated.

“It opened my eyes as to what these people went through because it's all real events,” the junior said. “I'm really honored to portray this person.”

The school's fall drama explores the fears, hopes and beauty of the children in the Terezin (Theresienstadt) Concentration Camp. The story is told from the perspective of Raja, a Terezin survivor, and flashes back from her home and camp.

The audience will witness a relationship developing between the young girl and a teacher who struggles to keep the children optimistic, despite the horrors of the camp. The drama is based on a book of collected artwork and poetry from Jewish children who lived in Terezin, the Jewish ghetto and concentration camp outside Prague.

The play tells the powerful and true story of the children. said Joette Salandro, Central's music and drama teacher.

The book and the play take their name from a poem by Pavel Friedman, who said he never saw another butterfly once he crossed beyond the barbed wire at Terezin. He died at Auschwitz, the Nazis' largest concentration camp.

Friedman wrote:

For seven weeks I've lived in here,

Penned up inside this ghetto

But I have found my people here.

The dandelions call to me

And the white chestnut candles in the court.

Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.

Butterflies don't live in here,

In the ghetto.

More than 15,000 Jewish children passed through Terezin during World War II. One hundred were found alive when the camp was liberated.

“One of the main messages I've learned is there is always hope ... even in the most impossible circumstances, and you must always remember that,” said Hanson, 16.

Salandro said she fell in love with the script because it has so many strong roles for women.

She knew she had a strong group of girls.

And the piece is powerful.

“They were very receptive to the play,” said Salandro, who directs a cast of 23 students and six crew members. “We hardly get through rehearsal without a few tears because some of these children were their own age. For some of them, it hits them hard.”

Senior Emily Pepke said she's rarely been involved with a performance that evokes so much emotion.

“It feels like you are the character you're playing,” said Pepke, 18, who portrays the mother. “The role taught me that together we are stronger than we are when we are alone.”

Along with the production, the cast and crew will be creating butterflies for the Butterfly Project at the Holocaust Museum Houston. The museum will memorialize 1.5 million Jewish children murdered by the Nazis by collecting 1.5 million butterflies for a special exhibit.

The Greensburg Central Catholic students have fashioned butterflies out of paper or fabric in numerous colors and styles.

“Just about everybody has done at least one butterfly, if not more,” Salandro said.

For senior Ashley Filapose, being a part of ‘I Never Saw Another Butterfly' has been a unique experience.

“It's opened my eyes,” said Filapose, 17, who portrays the teacher. “You learn about it as history but when you're in the play and have to act out the character, you see how it really affected their lives.

“Every single one of them,” she said.

Michele Stewardson is a freelance writer.

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