In 2018 Helena van Heel, mezzo, Nancy Brathwaite, clarinet and Vaughan Schlepp, piano recorded I never saw another butterfly, written by the American composer Thomas Oboe Lee, on poems made by children in the ghetto of Terezin (Theresienstadt).
‘A total of 15.000 children under the age of fifteen passed through the Terezin Concentration Camp between the years 1942-1944; less than 100 survived. With its high proportion of artists and intellectuals, culture flourished in the ghetto – alongside starvation, disease and constant dread of transports to the death camps of the east. In art classes the children in Terezin wrote poems and made drawings. What did it do to those children, that ghetto? Much of what it did to them we can see in the art they left behind. The children’s poems and drawings, revealing a maturity beyond their years, are haunting reminders of what no child should ever have to see.’ (Excerpt from the book I never saw another butterfly)
ON A SUNNY EVENING
On a purple, sun-shot evening
Under wide-flowering chestnut trees
Upon the threshold full of dust
Yesterday, today, the days are all like these.
Trees flower forth in beauty
Lovely, too, their very wood all gnarled and old
That I am half afraid to peer
Into their crowns of green and gold.
The sun has made a veil of gold
So lovely that my body aches.
Above, the heavens shriek with blue
Convinced I’ve smiled by some mistake.
The world’s abloom and seems to smile.
I want to fly but where, how high?
If in barbed wire, things can bloom
Why couldn’t I? I will not die!
Written by the children in Barracks L318 and L417, ages 10-16 years
The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun’s tears would sing
against a white stone…
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly ‘way up high.
It went away I’m sure because it wished to
kiss the world good-bye.
For seven weeks I’ve lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto.
But I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
4-6-1942 Pavel Friedmann
Spem in alium nunquam habui
Praeter in te, Deus Israel,
Qui irasceris et propitius eris,
et omnia peccata hominum
in tribulatione dimitis.
Creator caeli et terrae
respice humilitatem nostram.
The text from a 40-part Renaissance motet by Thomas Tallis, composed in 1570.
From the Book of Judith.
(I have never put my hope in any other
but in You, O God of Israel
who can show both anger and graciousness,
and who absolves all the sins
of suffering man.
Creator of Heaven and Earth
be mindful of our lowliness.)