Helena Middle School students have artwork inspire at Holocaust memorials

Published 8:30 am Thursday, March 16, 2023

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By SASHA JOHNS | Special to the Reporter

HELENA – Recently, students in Helena Middle School teacher Mallory Houston’s social studies class were given a moment to make the history they were studying much more personal by a local resident.

Each year, Houston has her sixth graders participate in the Butterfly Project, an art project that allows the students to honor those killed in the Holocaust by creating butterflies in their name.

This year, the special needs students of teacher Olivia Carrol were also participants in the project.

This year, the school’s Twitter post about the project caught the eye of Jason Redd, a local civil engineer who has traveled to Warsaw, Poland one week a month over the past year for his job. His work takes him to an area that is just steps away from what was the Warsaw ghettos where so many of the memorials are that speak to the history the students were learning about.

Redd noticed the timing of the project coincided not only with one of his work trips, but also with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on Jan. 27, so he reached out to Houston with a special offer to her class to take some of the butterflies to Poland and leave them at several of the memorials scattered across Warsaw on that day for them.

“The students were able to see their work mean something and be placed in the very spots we had learned about as a class,” Houston said. “I was grateful for this chance to capture my students’ attention in a new way.”

Redd went on to take eight of the laminated art projects with him to Poland.

He said it is common for people to leave stones and other remembrances at these memorials to pay respects to those murdered during the Nazi occupation, and that was what he did with the butterflies.

The eight butterflies were left at four different memorials throughout the city, the most notable being at the Janusz Korczak Memorial, which is central to Warsaw. Korczak was a polish teacher who ran an orphanage. He had tried to save 196 children during the Holocaust, but they were caught and sent to Treblinka where they were all killed.

“I wanted to help ensure that the people who were murdered are never forgotten, and that lessons are learned for another generation,” Redd said.

During a return to the school to speak, Redd told the students more about the Holocausts history in the city and how he used the butterflies. He brought pictures and explained what it would have been like to during the war.

It was a project that helped put into perspective history for several of the students, who enjoyed seeing their work used to bring attention to a serious subject.

“I feel honored to have my butterfly go to a memorial where it all actually happened, even though it is a way too small to show all of my empathy,” one sixth grader said. “I couldn’t even imagine how traumatizing it must have been for the children and everyone else in the Holocaust.”