Students’ butterflies honor Holocaust victims


Multicolored ceramic butterflies are affixed outside Saint John School buildings in Encinitas, carrying a message of remembrance and hope.

They’re part of the Butterfly Project, which aims to create 1.5 million ceramic butterflies worldwide to memorialize each child who perished in the Holocaust. The butterflies also serve as a reminder to combat present day intolerance and injustice.

Eighth graders from three schools — Saint John, All Hallows Academy in La Jolla and Saint Michael’s in Poway — painted 156 butterflies on Feb. 17 at Saint John. Once finished, students placed the colorful butterflies on trays to dry, and they’ll soon be fired in a kiln.

Half of the butterflies in a month or two will be installed at Saint John, adding to the existing butterfly memorial, and the remaining ones will begin a new collection at All Hallows Academy.

Saint John teacher Teresa Roberts said the butterflies help students learn about a difficult topic in creative and thought-provoking fashion.

“It’s a sign of hope — that we don’t want something like this to happen again,” Roberts said.

Saint John eighth graders conceived of the multi-school project as part of Saint John’s Faith in Action program in which students choose causes to assist. The Butterfly Project launched at Saint John about seven years ago, and the eighth graders wanted to contribute to the effort and also get other schools on board, according to Roberts.

In 2006, the Butterfly Project started after now-retired San Diego Jewish Academy teacher Jan Landau was inspired by “Paper Clips,” a documentary featuring a group of children in Whitwell, Tenn., who collected 6 million paper clips representing the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust. Laundau partnered with artist Cheryl Price with the intent of taking Holocaust education out of the textbook, while also inspiring students to stand up for what is right.

Price, who was at the Feb. 17 event, said she’s grateful the three Catholic schools are taking part in the Butterfly Project. It speaks to an interfaith bond, she added.

“I think the most important work we do is interfaith events,” Price said. “It’s how we’re really going to understand each other and see what we have in common, and that we need to practice courageousness and stand up for each other.”

The Butterfly Project has gone global with more than 200 communities participating, including those in Mexico, France and Australia. Price also noted a documentary is in the works — “Not the Last Butterfly” is about the unexpected places the project has reached.

“It’s about people finding hope through art,” Price said.

The day also included students baking cookies for inmates as part of Kairos Prison Ministry, a Christian outreach program that works in prisons across the world. The cookies are intended to remind inmates that people still care about them.

Before the students painted butterflies and made cookies, they listened to special speaker Rose Schindler, a Holocaust survivor.

Schindler recalled her horrific experience in the Auschwitz concentration camp, where she lost much of her family.

“People were dying like ants,” Schindler said.

The camp was liberated and she eventually ended up at a refugee hostel in England. There, she met her husband Max Schindler, also a Holocaust survivor. They live in San Diego.

Because she’s often asked, Rose Schindler said they’re not related to Oskar Schindler, who was featured in the Steven Spielberg movie “Schindler’s List.”

Echoing the Butterfly Project’s message, Rose Schindler said people should fight intolerance in all forms.

“What can we do so tragedy doesn’t strike?” she said, misty-eyed with emotion.

After speaking, Rose Schindler joined Saint John student Stuart Dempster in painting a butterfly. Dempster said it’s amazing that she overcame so much.

“You want to prevent something like that in the future so it doesn’t happen,” he said.