The Butterfly Project

The Butterfly Project

In 1997, a Chabad Academy (CJA) middle school teacher, had an idea that changed Holocaust education forever.

Inspired by the poem “I Never Saw Another Butterfly”, Eleanor Schiller of Chabad Academy (CJA) created the first “Butterfly Project” with the help of colleagues and friends.

They set out to create 1.5 million paper butterflies in memory of the 1.5 million children who perished during the holocaust. They planned to display the butterflies on Holocaust Memorial Day 1998.

The idea was a dream, but the outcome was enormous, and by far exceeded any expectation.

Mrs. Schiller and her students began cutting and decorating paper butterflies, and soon enough media outlets throughout America and beyond spread the word, and paper butterflies from all over the US, Australia, South Africa and Israel started arriving in the mail, mostly from schools, but also from senior homes and individuals, Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

Teachers and students everywhere were enthusiastic about the project. For the first time they had the opportunity to discuss and reflect on the most difficult time in human history while engaged in a positive activity – decorating a paper butterfly in memory of a young soul who perished.

The enormous effort to create and collect that amount of paper butterflies enabled students to imagine the magnitude of the loss. And most of all, the hands on activity itself impacted students in an unprecedented manner – students expressed that while cutting and coloring their butterfly they sensed a connection to the victims. “All of a sudden”, teachers reported, “students’ interest in the topic was aroused and children began raising important questions”.

Why butterflies?

Many explained it this way: The butterfly resembles the freedom and joy of childhood that the 1.5 million children of the holocaust were deprived of. Additionally, the butterfly’s lifetime is very short as were the lives of those children.

Local and National Media covered the project in all of its stages. This project was covered among others by USA Today, People Magazine, TIME for kids, New York Daily News, The Boston Chronicle.

That summer, Governor of South Carolina David Beasley visited Chabad Academy (CJA) to present Mrs. Eleanor Schiller with South Carolina’s highest honor –The Order of the Palmetto – for her contribution to the state of South Carolina by creating “The Butterfly Project”.

“The Butterfly Project” was duplicated in many schools and Holocaust museums all over the world, and it has forever enhanced the field of Holocaust education.

Photo credits: The Sun News