By TIM BULLARD
MYRTLE BEACH – Last Thursday, 1.2 million paper butterflies covered a field on Oak Street at the Chabad Jewish Center, blocks from where an apartment months earlier had been desecrated with anti-Semetic graffiti.
The butterflies were unleashed on April 23 to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to commemorate the 1.2 million-plus children slaughtered in the death camps of Hitler’s Nazi regime. The project was the dream of the wife of a survivor of Terezin Concentration Camp, which was in a small town 35 miles northwest of Prague.
There were enough Terezin prisoner-musicians for a full symphony orchestra, hence the operetta “Brundibar” or “Bumblebee.”
Of the Czech Jews taken to Terezin, 97,297 died, including 15,000 children under 15, and only 132, including Hugo Schiller of Myrtle Beach, survived to tell the story. The butterfly dream was created by his wife of 43 years, Ellie.
The inspiration originated from a poem, “The Butterfly,” written by Pavel Friedmann, a child interned at Terezin Concentration Camp and later murdered. His drawings and poems were collected to remember the children when the camps were liberated.
Schiller began to get others to help her, collecting one paper butterfly for each child’s life.
“We did it,” she said April 23.
The Chabad of Myrtle Beach and Temple Emanu-el helped along with assistance from more than 3,000 groups through the Internet and other countries around the world, including Austria, Israel, Canada, Brazil and Australia.
The recent ceremony at the Chabad Center featured dignitaries, citizens and pastors gathered in the rain which was interrupted by sunshine. The school there has 125 students.
The project has gotten national attention in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, TIME For Kids, USA Today and many community newspapers and dailies which published feature stories and photos of their own children making paper butterflies to send to the Myrtle Beach project.
Chabad leaders and pupils were inundated with buckets and cases of butterflies, each from five to seven inches, which volunteers were still unloading and unleashing at the time of the ceremony.
Speakers included the Schillers, Rabbi Yossi Narparstek of Chabad, Msgr. Thomas R. Duffy of St. Micahel’s Church in Garden City, Myrtle Beach Mayor Mark McBride, former Mayor Bob Grissom, Rep. Mark Kelley, Rabbi Isreal Silber of Temple Emanu-el, the Rev. Wayne Brown of First Baptist Church of Myrtle Beach, Noah Goldberg and Rabbi Doren Aizenman, also of Chabad.
Musical entertainment was by the Chabad Choir with “Butterfly Song” and “De’Jour.” Brown led an impromptu song from “Godspell.”
In the rain, Msgr. Duffy talked about life and death, viewing the expansive field of butterflies before the ceremony. “He (God) encourages us to choose life,” Msgr. Duffy said. “I want to thank the children and the administration for making it possible for so many children across the world to give us that love.”
“The tragedy, the sadness and the loss cannot happen again,” said Aizenman.
Kelley, fighting back tears, said it was not a day for politicans, but a day to remember, “God’s people killing God’s people is wrong.”
“This is a very special day in this city,” said McBride. “We can never forget atrocities.”
Silber, a chaplain for the Horry County Police, talked of an incident in Sept. 23, 1942, when a Jewish ghetto was surrounded by German soldiers.
“Today is a day of unity,” said Brown, who has visited a concentration camp. “I couldn’t believe it. Love is greater than hate. We learn from the past. We hope for the future. The tears of heaven were falling earlier, and now the sun is here.”
Butterflies on the wall contained comments such as these, about a victim: “She was killed by Hitler’s Nazis in 1942 in Treblinka. She was 14 years old when she died.”
There were six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, with newer reports estimating that total closer to seven million.
For more information, call the Chabad Jewish Center at (843) 448-0035 or Schiller at (843) 449-7051, or visit http://www.holocaustcenter.com/ on the Internet.