The Butterfly Project: Remembering the Children of the Holocaust

More than 75 years after the young Czech poet Pavel Friedmann famously penned a farewell poem to “the very last” butterfly at the Terezin Concentration Camp, the children of the world have answered Friedmann with the largest migration of butterflies ever seen. The United Nations will host an exhibit of handmade butterflies made by children from six continents over the last two decades to memorialize the 1.5 million mostly Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust. The display, which officially opens Tuesday, Jan. 23 in the United Nations Visitors’ Lobby, represents a portion of the 1.5 million butterflies contained in Holocaust Museum Houston’s “The Butterfly Project: Remembering the Children of the Holocaust” and is presented as part of the United Nation’s observance of the International Day of Commemoration in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.

Although Friedmann wrote that he “never saw another butterfly,” the butterfly remembrance project has traveled the world, from the discovery of Friedmann’s poem “The Butterfly” during liberation of the Terezin camp in 1945 to Houston in 1995, when local teachers and Holocaust Museum Houston staff created a curriculum to teach schoolchildren about the Holocaust and launched it on the internet. From there, The Butterfly Project went viral, and soon the Museum was receiving box loads of butterflies from schools across the globe and even one created on the Space Shuttle.

“The Butterfly Project represents the resilience of the human spirit and the power of hope to transcend hatred,” said Dr. Kelly J. Zúñiga, CEO of Holocaust Museum Houston. “It’s fitting that these butterflies debut at the United Nations because of our shared commitment to peace, cooperation and human rights.” The display is presented in conjunction with The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme.

The United Nations exhibit includes six large display cases and 14 wall panels showcasing hundreds of handmade butterflies “in flight,” an interactive wishing wall and a video depicting the history of the project. The colorful butterflies represent a stunning range of artistic interpretations and materials, including paper, wood, metal, fabric, feathers, stained glass and concrete. Inspired by the children who perished, the butterflies also convey the loss of beauty, potential and freedom.

Friedmann was 21 when he wrote “The Butterfly” a few months after arriving at Terezin in 1942. Some 12,000 children and adolescents passed through the Terezin camp from 1942-1944. More than 90 percent of the children who were there perished during the Holocaust. Friedmann died in 1944 at Auschwitz. His poem received worldwide attention in 1959 when it was published in the book I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942–1944. Ever since, the butterfly— with its miraculous rebirth and transformation into new life—has become a symbol of freedom from oppression, intolerance and hatred.

The enormous success of The Butterfly Project tells a survival story of another kind. Because of the unexpected volume of butterflies received, Holocaust Museum Houston had to overcome the risk of damage to the fragile artwork from Houston’s heat, humidity and floodwaters. Today the butterflies are stored in 60,000-cubic feet of temperature controlled storage units with plans to encase the remaining butterflies in Museum’s expanded campus currently under construction for reopening in Spring 2019.

The Holocaust and the United Nations Outreach Programme, in partnership with Holocaust Museum Houston, will publish a set of 14 posters based on “The Butterfly Project” in all official languages of the United Nations – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish – as well as Azeri and Kiswahili. They will be displayed in 32 countries.

The project also includes an interactive web site, butterflies.hmh.org with up-to-date location and venue information, a virtual wishing wall for visitors to leave messages about their hopes for humanity, videos about the project and its impact, and an invitation to become a social media champion for hope by taking the The Butterfly Project Pledge to #StandWithHope.

“The Butterfly Project: Remembering the Children of the Holocaust” will be on display in the Visitors’ Lobby at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City, located at 405 E 42nd Street (1st Avenue and 46thStreet), Jan. 23-Feb. 26, 2018. During this period, the Visitors’ Lobby is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Government-issued photo identification is required and can be obtained at the United Nations Visitor Centre. Admission to the exhibition is free.

January 23, 2018 - February 26, 2018

One UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017

M: Closed
T-W: 10 am to 5 pm
Th: 10 am to 8 pm
F-Sa: 10 am to 5 pm
Su: Noon to 5 pm


Lead Sponsors
Paula Goldstein
Susan D. Sarofim
Susan Zises Green for The Meyer & Jean Steinberg Family Foundation
The Warren Family

Supporting Sponsors
The Schissler Foundation
The Tepper Family Foundation