Student play looks at lessons from Shoah


Parkway Northeast Middle School students are performing the play I Never Saw Another Butterfly on Feb. 28 and 29. The play is based on the children’s drawings and poems from the Terezin Nazi concentration camp.

Each year the school’s drama teacher/director Victoria Churchill chooses two shows. She strives to select shows which are connected or contrast similar themes. Earlier in the year, students performed High School Musical. Both shows help students understand the importance of acceptance and tolerance, said Churchill.

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“The theme of High School Musical teaches kids to honor every person and we’re all in this together,” Churchill said. “I Never Saw Another Butterfly has a very different way of saying the same thing. It shows how what seems small right now can grow out of control; what that can look like and what it did look like in the Holocaust.”

Churchill borrowed films from the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center to educate the students as they prepared for the play. One film included testimony from Raja Englanderova, one of the few survivors of the camp.

“Perhaps the most emotional, lasting message was brought home when we were doing our first discussions on the play,” Churchill said. “The students were wondering which of the children they were portraying survived. They were overwhelmed to realize only one of them survived. It really internalized the lesson.”

Eighth grader Lani Tons, daughter of Sherri and Bruce Tons and seventh grader Jake Sandweiss, son of Karen and Bruce Sandweiss are in the play. Both students said they studied about the Holocaust in religious school classes. Tons belongs to Shaare Emeth and Sandweiss belongs to Temple Israel. They are able to see the commonalities in the two plays.

“High School Musical is very happy and this play is very dramatic,” Sandweiss said. “But their messages are the same: there is room for everybody and everyone can just be friends.”

Tons also sees another theme despite one play taking place in the present day and the other relating to events over 60 years ago.

“All kids want to fit in and many are scared to show their true identities,” Tons said.

Both students have had some encounters with anti-Semitism. Tons expressed how some students judge who is a Jew based on stereotypes. Sandweiss had a more threatening experience for which the offending student was disciplined.

“One person at school talked about how much he hates the Jews,” Sandweiss said.

Neither student is sure whether or not the audience will take home the lessons of the play. Sandweiss feels Jewish people will take the play more seriously than some non-Jewish people and is concerned about people who might not believe the events actually happened.

“I don’t mean to be pessimistic,” Tons said. “But most students won’t probably get the true meaning of the play until they are older.”

One of lessons of the play may be brought home with the addition of the butterflies.

Churchill learned about the Houston Holocaust Museum’s butterfly project when she was doing research for the play. The museum is collecting 1.5 million handmade butterflies in memory of the 1.5 million children who died in the Holocaust. The butterflies will be included as part of a future exhibition in the museum.

The entire school made butterflies for the museum. Tons said the shared experience brought everybody together, brought attention to the play and created interest in the Holocaust.

The programs for the play are being printed on card stock with one side devoted to the outline of a butterfly. Audience members will be encouraged to color and cut out the butterflies and send them back to the school by March 13 to be sent to the museum in Houston.

I Never Saw Another Butterfly is being performed at Parkway Northeast Middle School on Thursday, Feb. 28 and Friday, Feb. 29 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door.

For more information contact Victoria Churchill at 314-415-7156 or at [email protected].