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Pittsburgh children paint ceramic butterflies to remember Holocaust victims

Bob Bauder
| Wednesday, April 12, 2017, 9:56 p.m.
Emy Escobar, 8, (left) and cousin Kimberly Escobar, 5, paint ceramic butterflies Wednesday at the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood in commemoration of 1.5 million Jewish children who perished during the Holocaust.
Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
Emy Escobar, 8, (left) and cousin Kimberly Escobar, 5, paint ceramic butterflies Wednesday at the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood in commemoration of 1.5 million Jewish children who perished during the Holocaust.

Gabriela Avila never met Severin Regenweter. He died decades before she was born.

But Gabriela, 12, said it was important to remember Regenweter and 1.5 million other Jewish children who died during the Holocaust. Avila and about 80 other people gathered Wednesday at the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood to paint ceramic butterflies in commemoration of the dead children.

“I think it's a very interesting topic and something we should talk more about,” Gabriela said. “It's very sad. They did nothing to deserve this. They just had to die because of something they believed in.”

Two educators at the San Diego Jewish Academy created the Butterfly Project in 2006 with a goal of having schoolchildren across the globe paint one butterfly for every child killed during the Holocaust. The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, which hosted Wednesday's event, hopes to contribute 1,800 butterflies by hosting similar events across the region. It plans to display the butterflies this fall at its Greenfield museum.

Director Lauren Bairnsfather said the timing of the event during Passover — a holiday commemorating the liberation of Jews from slavery in Egypt — was coincidental. Enlisting members of the Latino Family Center was deliberate, she said.

“For us it is a chance to connect with this community,” Bairnsfather said. “It's a chance to engage a diverse population in activities associated with Holocaust remembrance.”

Children and parents daubed paint on butterflies at tables lining the center's main room as Latino music played in the background. They were joined by Mayor Bill Peduto and City Councilman Dan Gilman of Squirrel Hill.

Each painter received a card with a short biography of a child who perished during the Holocaust. Little is known about most of them.

Regenweter was born on Jan. 16, 1934, and lived in Lodz, Poland. His parents were Zelda and Henick, and he was a child when he died. His age and the date and place of his death were never recorded, according to his biography.

Bairnsfather said she knows of 50 Holocaust survivors living in Pittsburgh.

Peduto, a strong advocate for immigration, stressed that his administration remains committed to diversity in the city.

“This week we celebrate both Passover where Jewish families gather with their friends for a Seder, and we celebrate Easter, and we understand that our religions are very much alike,” he said. “We also understand that we are all alike as Pittsburghers, and despite conversations happening in Washington, Pittsburgh remains a welcoming city for all.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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