Teaching the Holocaust through art

The Butterfly Project inspired high school art teacher Mrs. Christine to have the daughter of Holocaust survivors share her family’s stories with students.
Posted on 03/19/2020
Audrey Nolte, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, speaks to Quakertown Community High School AP Art History students.By Gary Weckselblatt

When Audrey Nolte, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, speaks to students, one of the many highlights of her presentation involves the story of her father’s pocket watch, a gift from his father.

When Mrs. Nolte explains how a Nazi guard purposefully stepped on it, breaking the glass, students hearing the story feel the impact.

“Stories live on and stories connect people,” said Riya Sembhi, an AP Art History student who recently heard Mrs. Nolte’s moving presentation. “That small pocket watch she had literally froze time in the midst of all that chaos.”

Quakertown Community High School art teacher Laurie Christine has had Mrs. Nolte, a former QCSD librarian, speak to her students for the last four years. The two educators are connected through the Butterfly Project, which remembers the 1.5 million children killed during the Holocaust.

The Butterfly Project was started by the Executive Director of the Holocaust Museum of Houston and two teachers. They put a call out to schools across the United States to make 1.5 million butterflies, one for each child that lost their life in the Holocaust. As Mrs. Christine explained, though they reached their goal years ago they still encourage the project as bullying and racism remain issues in our society. Their inspiration came from the book I never saw another butterfly, a collection of artwork and poems from the children of the Terezin Concentration camp.

When artist/art educator, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis was deported to the camp from Austria with her husband, she made it her mission to teach art to children in secret. Her teachings served as Art Therapy to the children of Terezin. Her husband was then deported to Auschwitz and she volunteered to go with him. Before she left Terezin, she gave one of her older students two suitcases filled with 4,500 drawings and poems the children created. Those suitcases were found a decade later and this is where the artwork and writings from the book I never saw another butterfly came from.

When Mrs. Christine learned that Mrs. Nolte had taught about the book during her years in QCSD, she invited her to share her family's story with her students. “I am so grateful to her,” Mrs. Christine said. “She is an incredible lady and has inspired so many students, and me too!”

As an assignment, each of Mrs. Christine’s students receives a poem from the book and then create a butterfly for the child of Terezin who wrote it. “They can incorporate imagery from the poem or simply use shape, line and pattern to create their butterfly,” she said. Each year at the District Art Show, “people from the community are in awe with the project and the story behind it.”

AP Art student Brianna White said that learning the number of children who died “is terribly impactful” but having the ability to hear Mrs. Nolte’s stories was “inspiring.”

When she explained the history of the pocket watch to students, Mrs. Nolte said her father told her, “My wish is that you’ll do something important.”

Which is similar to her words for students. “There will be times you can’t pay anyone back but you can pay it forward,” she said. “Be an upstander, not a bystander.”

Gary Weckselblatt, QCSD Director of Communications, writes about the people and the programs that impact the Quakertown Community School District. He can be reached at 215-529-2028 or [email protected].
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