How do we make the Holocaust accessible to students? What’s at stake, for them, for us, for the world? But equally important, what can we learn from working with one another? – Sondra Perl
As an arts educator and perpetual student of life, I carry a great deal of continuous wonder and inquiry throughout my days. The questions above from Sondra Perl, author and Senior Program Director at The Olga Lengyel Institute (TOLI), resonated with me throughout my journey to Germany and Poland. They floated through a combination of silent and celebratory moments, continuously reminding me that there is so much to learn from others in the process of becoming a better educator, leader, human.
In June, I traveled as a Board member, conference presenter and ambassador of The Butterfly Project. Cheryl Rattner Price and I met contacts in Cottbus and Berlin, Germany. Then we presented at TOLI’s teacher seminar in partnership with POLIN- the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw, Poland.
I was excited to meet educators and administrators abroad. What ideas would we share? What will it be like with various native languages spoken amongst us? What is working and not working in our efforts to deliver high quality, impactful Holocaust education that provokes students to take positive action? These questions, like Perl’s questions above, swirled through my head. But again, it was Perl’s last question above, that gets to the heart of this recent trip abroad: …what can we learn from working with one another?
It was the people we met and spent time with that made this trip so impactful. If I were to begin to tell you the stories face to face, you’d see me get misty-eyed in the process. We formed beautiful, authentic connections with educators, scholars and community leaders in both countries. For Cheryl, it was sometimes a special face-to-face meeting with a relationship that developed several years over emails and phone calls. Connecting to others abroad, on their turf, to collaborate and co-create them, was an incredibly invigorating feeling. We share a passion for Holocaust and human rights education, and the feeling for me was affirming and activating.
Nicole Nocon, a resident and journalist in Cottbus, warmly welcomed us upon arrival at the train station on a sunny day in the Eastern region of Germany. There is much to share about Nicole and her passion and dedication to The Butterfly Project! She introduced us to the primary school Bewegte Grundschule, which welcomed The Butterfly Project in January for our Connecting USA and Germany event as a way to build a school-to-school relationship with La Jolla Country Day School (developed and led by Steve Schindler). I was told this school was once named after Adolf Hitler during a period of its history. I reflected on the important work and recent connections made through residents of Cottbus and the Schindler family, now residing in San Diego. These intersecting family stories of past and present.
Schoolchildren at Bewegte Grundschule hold up the sign they made for the students at La Jolla Country Day School.
Nicole Nocon holds up a painted butterfly at Bewegte Grundschule in Cottbus, Germany.
The more I learned about Cottbus, the more I knew that this was the beginning of more to come. The children were very proud of their installations and newly established relationships with La Jolla Country Day School and Steve Schindler. They were also excited to meet Cheryl. They had profound questions to ask her. Before departing, we joined the children, parents and teachers in adding several more butterflies to their installation. We are making history with Bewegte Grundschule as the first school in Germany to participate in The Butterfly Project!
The butterfly installation grows at Bewegte Grundschule in Cottbus, Germany.
Teachers from other parts of Germany drove to Cottbus to see The Butterfly Project’sfilm, NOT the Last Butterfly, and have a dialogue about their own personal histories growing up in Germany. We shared stories and dreamed up possibilities of continuing the global movement of The Butterfly Project – one rooted in compassion through arts education. We shared time together in two languages, at the school and on an outdoor picnic at Fürst-Pückler-Park Branitz- all thanks to the coordination and kindness from Nicole Nocon. We will continue to work with Nicole as projects continue in Cottbus.
To help Nicole expand The Butterfly Project in Germany, the visionary team of Berlin-based organization FEZ is taking on the task of creating thousands of butterflies during their summer programming. FEZ Berlin is Europe’s biggest non-profit children’s, youth and family centre, and they will be bringing The Butterfly Project to Berlin schools in the coming year. We want to say a special thank you to this creative team – Michael Raj Kunsmann, Nubia and Verena!
Cheryl and I had the honor of presenting The Butterfly Project to participants of the TOLI Poland seminar in partnership with POLIN – the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.
We were warmly welcomed by Katarzyna Laziuk (Kasia), an Ambassador to POLIN and the national coordinator for TOLI in Poland. She is a leader in her community and an exceptional human being. Cheryl had been in contact with her for quite some time, but this was their first in-person meeting.
Katarzyna Łaziuk and Oana Nestian Sandu, TOLI Poland Seminar organizers/presenters.
When the TOLI seminar began, I was impressed beyond measure with the speakers:
- Mark Berez, President, TOLI
- H.E. Anna Azari, Ambassador of Israel to Poland
- Dan Hastings, U.S. Embassy in Poland
- Lucja Koch, Head of Education Department (POLIN)
- 32 teachers in Poland were selected through a competitive application process to participate in this TOLI seminar: Learning from the Past~ Acting for the Future. The aim of this seminar is to “contribute to increasing the quality of education regarding the Holocaust and human rights in Poland. The program provides a rich opportunity to integrate national and international approaches in teaching about these topics and in understanding the contemporary relevance of this important part of modern history.”
A highlight of the seminar was listening to the three-generation survivor testimony from relatives Assia Raberman and relatives, nephew and TOLI President Mark Berez and great-niece Jennifer Rotker. To hear and see the stories connect across generations was something new and special for me. Spending time with this family at the seminar, including Mark’s wife, Carole Lustig-Berez, was so memorable. Listening to their stories and learning more about the work they are now doing through TOLI was powerful and inspiring. Once again, I find myself learning so much by sharing time with others.
Survivor Assia Raberman presents at the TOLI Conference.
Oana Nestian Sandu, Director of European Programs for TOLI, is another person I am extremely grateful to have met. She led a very impactful session on identity and stereotypes. It always feels good when one can walk away from a conference session with so many practical and authentic tools for application. Oana is a scholar and educational leader that I hope to learn more from, and with. TOLI is expanding their programming, and so is The Butterfly Project. We are reaching more people, across generations and geographic regions. Isn’t this wonderful news for humanity?
We are empowering humanity to be “upstanders” rather than bystanders-especially our youth. In Cottbus, students recently saw a swastika on a wall near their school. They answered back by wanting to turn it into a butterfly. Our youth are creating change. They want to make an impact, and they don’t need to wait until they grow up. They are making a difference now, and we must encourage them to keep going and believe in the power of loving kindness- across the globe…now and well into our future. I’m on board; are you?