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By Fiorna Hams, St. Paul's Anglican
Grammar School, Australia
Franta (Frantisek) Bass was born in Brno on September 4, 1930. He was deported to Terezín concentration camp on December 2, 1941, and died in Auschwitz on October 28, 1944. He was fourteen years old. A total of about 15,000 children under the age of fifteen passed through Terezín, (Theresienstadt), a civilian town, turned ghetto, turned concentration camp in the Bohemian mountains, just southwest of Prague, Czechoslovakia. This town, built for only 8,000 people, at one stage housed close to 60,000.
Living conditions were poor; food was scarce, and shelter was wherever people could find it. Transports came and went until 1944 when only 100 of the 15,000 children that passed through Terezín had survived, none under the age of fourteen.
What did survive was a suitcase full of drawings and poems done by the children of Terezín between 1942-1944. In 1955, after ten years of collecting dust, the suitcase was found and the contents restored. The pictures and prose of the children have been read by millions around the world, and many of them are collected in a book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly....
From collages, to crayon pictures and poems, to letters for lost parents, this collection provides an interesting and rarely seen view of what was later known as the Holocaust. The accounts and interpretations made by the children as these events occurred around them is unique when studying this period of European history. The book was compiled to inform, like most texts, about the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jewish people.
But, this book was written by children. The accounts are not analytical or reflective, simply the thoughts, ideas, dreams, and nightmares of the innocent minds of young children with no sense of history. The writings tell of lost innocence, and, with intuitive subtlety, reveal the fears and suspicions of what the adults know of Terezín, but do not tell.
Pictures of home, loved ones, butterflies and flowers are signs of hope in a hopeless situation, and poetry about homelands and freedom are as much about faith and belief in the future as they are dreams of the past. But as years go by and people come and go, how long must a child wait to be free? Paintings grow dull and gray; poetry saddens, and we realize that there is no longer innocence in Terezín.
I am a Jew and will be a Jew forever.
Even if I should die from hunger,
never will I submit.
I will always fight for my people,
on my honor.
I will never be ashamed of them;
I give my word.
I am proud of my people,
how dignified they are.
Even though I am oppressed,
I will always come back to life.
-- Franta Bass
Text Studied: Volavkova, Hana, ed., I Never Saw Another Butterfly... Childrens' Drawings and Poems from Terezín Concentration Camp, 1942-1944. Expanded Second Edition, with a Foreword by Chaim Potok and Afterword by Vaclav Havel. (New York: Schocken Books, 1993.) 106 pages.
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