"I never saw another butterfly..."
Those words were written by a young boy who, along with 1.5 million other children, did not survive the Holocaust.
Pavel Friedman wrote those words in a poem in 1942 while imprisoned in the Terezin ghetto, and his butterfly became one of many Holocaust symbols.
The Butterfly Project in Charlotte was inspired by an international effort based in San Diego that uses hand-painted ceramic butterflies to memorialize the children lost in the Holocaust. In less than two years, the project has completed almost 2,000 butterflies with the help of the Charlotte community and nearby towns.
The project will send 18 butterflies to San Diego to help the national project accumulate 1.5 million. The rest of Charlotte's butterflies will be incorporated into a permanent outdoor memorial on the Levine Jewish Community Center campus.
Artist Paul Rousso is designing the permanent sculpture. The goal is to have the unveiling on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) on May 1, 2011.
"At that time we will have a dedication of the sculpture within the program at Shalom Park," Charlotte resident and Butterfly Project co-chair Gwen Orland said.
"Anyone that participated in the Butterfly Project is encouraged to join us for the dedication," she said, but the entire community is welcome.
The idea began in 2006 at the San Diego Jewish Academy (SDJA). SDJA's project, Zikaron V'Tikvah - Hebrew for remembrance and hope - has received international support; Charlotte's butterfly count will be included in San Diego's total.
Charlottean Wilma Asrael introduced the project to Charlotte, and local residents Orland and Barb Ziegler co-chair the Butterfly Project. The project received an initial grant from the Lenora Stein Educational Fund and is sponsored by the Levine Jewish Community Center (LJCC). Private donations keep the project running.
The project has been effective at bringing "this hands-on artistic project to the Charlotte community to help present this difficult subject matter within school curriculums," while assisting "San Diego in their quest for 1.5 million butterflies to represent the same number of children that perished," Orland said.
The team has held workshops at the LJCC and has taken the butterflies and paints to schools, churches, libraries and senior centers.
Each painter receives a certificate carrying a child's name that was obtained from the archives of the National Holocaust Museum.
"This has been a strong connection for most participants when they see the name of the child that they are painting the butterfly for," Orland said.
One sixth-grade girl said, "I felt I had to do the best that I possibly could because the children that died in the Holocaust had beautiful souls. I tried to incorporate as many colors as possible so that my butterfly would show her beautiful soul."
"It makes me sad to think that children died with a whole life ahead of them," another student said. "I know stuff like this is happening all over the world now and makes me thankful to live in America."
Zeigler said, "I hope the participants, particularly the students, understand that they have the power to make a difference in this world. They can remember the past; they can act responsibly in the present and help create a more peaceful future."
"It's amazing to look at the butterflies and see the creativity and individuality of each one," Zeigler said.
"No two are alike ... and they are all beautiful," Orland said.