The play I Never Saw Another Butterfly is based off of the real life stories of children in the Holocaust. The setting of the play takes place in Terezin in the early 1940′s. The story begins with the sound of an abrupt loud speaker. The voice of a German Nazi is audible to the audience. The man announces the deaths and arrivals of Jews to Auschwitz. Trains to and from Auschwitz carried hundreds of Jews to prepare for their demise. There they would be gassed, piled, and burned. While in waiting, Jews in the concentration camps of Terezin were abused. They had their heads shaved, their belongings taken, and their dignities robbed from them. Each Jew was given a number, that number would be tattooed to their arm and serve as identification. No longer were the Jews called by name, but rather degraded and identified by a number. Each and every day families were torn apart. The loudspeaker was used for the calling of the Jews who would be prepared to lose their lives. The play itself focuses on one distinct character, Raja Englanderova. Raja a girl of only sixteen years of age, lost her father, mother, and two brothers during the Holocaust. She was then sent to Terezin where she would be held until her number was called. Terezin was merely a holding place for her, and many others. The camp had an abundance of disease, rats, lice, and was home to thousands of starving Jews. Throughout her stay, Raja came in contact with a humble and loving teacher by the name of Irena Synkova who showed Raja that there is hope. Raja eventually began speaking more frequently and expressing herself through poetry and drawings. One poem of which the play received its name from is called I Never Saw Another Butterfly. The poem symbolizes the feeling of having nothing left. The feeling of being alone and hope being nothing but a word in which is used by very few. Raja faces numerous struggles throughout the play. She falls in love, creates bonds, and finds her strength… all in which is one day taken away from her.
Text to self:
Here the weak die easy as a feather And when they die, they die forever. I’d like to go back home again. It makes me think of sweet spring flowers.
I remember the feeling of walking through my grandfather’s nursing home. When I first stepped in the door, I could smell the collective odors of the patients that inhabited. It wasn’t like any smell, it was intense. It made my nose wrinkle, and my eyes water. It was the smell of death. Upon my first breath in that hospital, my heart sank. I was but eleven years old, but I knew exactly why my grandfather was there. I knew that throughout his stay he would only get worse. I knew that no matter how long I visited with him, no matter what I said to him, that the outcome would be the same. The same for him, and the same for everyone in his position. Death. The patients being tended to and cared for by the nurses as I walked by appeared to be so lost. Their eyes were lost in another world. It was like their youthful spirits no longer inhabited their elderly bodies. They were walking corpses. They were weak. All I wanted to do, was get my grandfather out of there and take him home to the smells of comfort and well-being.
IRENA Waiting days are long days, Raja. You would learn to stop thinking of tomorrow and to keep alive today. That’s the secret of waiting— remember that—to keep alive today. RAJA Part of me would always be waiting. IRENA Then you would do what we all learn to do to make waiting bearable.
RAJA I don’t know how…I’m afraid… IRENA Afraid of tomorrow? Then think of today—now. Can you live until tonight? RAJA (puzzled) Yes…
IRENA And at noon, in the heat and the hunger, the stench and the weariness… can you live until night? RAJA Yes, yes… IRENA Then you will survive. Each day you find some reason…
This conversation between Irena and Raja is inspirational. I recently went through a break up with someone I was with for over a year. When we first broke up, I felt nothing but despair. I felt like my world had come to an end. I narrow mindedly ignored the fact that my life was not over because some guy broke my heart. I only saw the depression that would await me. This conversation opened my eyes to realize that there are so many people who have it much worse than I do. People who are fighting each day to live until tomorrow. Irena is right, each day I will find some reason to move on with my life. My life will not stop because of depression or betrayal. Those emotions and happenings will only make me stronger in the long run. The negative affects of loss will last a short amount of time. It’s the future positive outcome, that will last me a lifetime.
CHILD III: I’m going to sit very quiet and read story books as long as I want to when I go home—all night maybe… CHILD IV: I’m going to play the piano when I go home and everyone will sing and we won’t care how noisy we are… RAJA: When I go home… (She walks away from the group and faces the audience as she speaks her poem.) I’ve lived here in the ghetto more than a year. In Terezin, in the black town now, And when I remember my old home so dear. I can love it more than I did, somehow. Ah, home, home, Why did they ever tear me away?
It’s ironic that in this particular part of the play Raja has a more negative outlook than the children around her. Yet in the end, she survives while most of the children perish. I feel that Raja opened her eyes to the deaths of those around her, and felt that she wouldn’t even get the chance to go home. She clearly did not have the hope that the younger children had. It seems as if Raja was lost in her own world of negativity. She was blind to the fact that she was still alive, and there had been so many others who were not as fortunate. Throughout the whole play Raja had a cynical outlook on her situation, not that I can blame her, but it would’ve been beneficial if she stayed more positive.
RAJA: (faces in the direction of the voice, then walks slowly downstage) My name—is Raja. I was born in Prague. Father, Mother, Pavel, Irca, Irena, Honza—they are all gone, and I am alone. But that is not important. Only one thing is important—that I am a Jew, and that I survived Terezin.
My name is Raja— I am a Jew; I survived Terezin—not alone, and not afraid.
I noticed that in both the beginning and the end, Raja’s monologues both include her stating her name and her “cause” so to speak. In the beginning, the feeling of determination is exerted, as well as in the end, the feeling of accomplishment. The beginning foreshadows the ending when she states that she survived Terezin. In her concluding monologue, she added that she wasn’t alone or afraid. Throughout the play people like Honza and Irena helped her through her struggles. It is important to recognize the added ending because it shows that people may come and go, but a bond between two people can be strong enough to conquer through anything.
The first photo was painted and found in the barracks of a camp in Terezin. The picture clearly illustrates the dull and gloomy lives of the Jews during the Holocaust. The gurney represents the illness and the death that inhabited as well as the Jews carrying the gurney almost as a punishment. The faces of the people in the pictures illustrate grief and depression.
The second photo was painted by a child and happens to be a part of the picture book I Never Saw Another Butterfly. The butterflies in the fields represent happiness and tranquility. Something that the Jews lacked throughout their stay in Terezin. Both paintings coincide with the idea of the play. The displeasure, and the hope that the Jews had. In the play the character Irena, refers to the fields as a gift to Raja. A form of paradise. In our world today, we all have a location or a certain picture that reminds us of paradise.
IRENA Raja, Raja Englanderova, you know by now that my number—102866—was called; when you come to school today you will see that I have gone. (She rises and goes to the side where she enacts the following) I have wrapped up the last of the pictures and poems in my shawl. See that these are buried with the rest—somewhere. And remember what they mean to all of us. I have nothing else to give you but this—what you and all the children have made of Terezin—the fields, the flowers, and all the butterflies…Good-bye…
The link above is to a video interview with a man named Elie Weisel. Weisel was fifteen years old when him and his family were kidnapped from their homes and taken to Terezin. All of his family was then murdered. Just like Raja in the play. Weisel recalls all of the pain and the hunger endured. He also states that Auschwitz is the biggest graveyard site in the world. It is as large as five thousand baseball fields and is home to millions of corpses.
The main idea of this video, I believe, is to inform people around the world that the Jews were harshly mistreated. Auschwitz is a reminder of the cruel and evil ways of the human race. This video relates to the world because it is a non-fiction piece. It is completely and relevantly historical in many aspects.
Raja, the lead character of the play, reminds me in many ways of the character Nick from the book The Great Gatsby. Raja and Nick both have very introverted personalities. Granted Nick lived in a modern American city in the 20′s, and Raja was being held hostage in a concentration camp. Although, they both acted as if there was nothing they could do about their situations. They both had ambitions and dreams, Nick to be rich, Raja to be with her family and friends. Consequently they both had a negative way of viewing things. In the end, neither of them received the lives they desired.
The novel The Things They Carried, took place during the Vietnamese War. I Never Saw Another Butterfly took place during World War II. Both stories took place during a time of war. Both the Jews and the soldiers faced terrifying and fatal outcomes. The soldiers were exposed to death. This caused mental instability for many of them. Raja and the Jews of Terezin were likewise exposed to death. Both the soldiers and the Jews experienced suffering and pain. They experienced doubt in regards to their survival. Clearly there’s a difference between surviving a Holocaust and being a soldier in Vietnam, but the outcomes of each remain the same. Survival or death.