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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

April 6, 2018  RSS feed
Culture

Text: T T T

Sculpture inspired by ‘Butterfly’ poem’s author dedicated at Florida Holocaust Museum


Walter Loebenberg, founder of the Florida Holocaust Museum, greets Helen Fagin, sitting next to the sculpture Butterfly Boy, which she donated to the museum. Standing to the left of Loebenberg is his daughter, Sandy Mermelstein, the museum’s senior educator, and to his right, Fagin’s sister, Terrie. Walter Loebenberg, founder of the Florida Holocaust Museum, greets Helen Fagin, sitting next to the sculpture Butterfly Boy, which she donated to the museum. Standing to the left of Loebenberg is his daughter, Sandy Mermelstein, the museum’s senior educator, and to his right, Fagin’s sister, Terrie. The Florida Holocaust Museum held ceremonies on Monday, March 26 to dedicate a new bronze sculpture, “Butterfly Boy” created by the late Sidney Fagin as an homage to a young Jewish poet who died in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

On hand for the event was Fagin’s widow, Holocaust survivor Helen N. Fagin of Sarasota, who donated the sculpture to the museum in St. Petersburg. Helen played a key role in the founding of the Florida Holocaust Museum and served on its board of directors from 2002-2007. She received the Loebenberg Humanitarian Award in 2005. Helen was also instrumental in establishing the Holocaust Memorial sculpture in Miami Beach.

The sculpture is inspired by a poem written by 21-year-old Pavel Friedman on April 6, 1942 at the time of his incarceration at Terezin, prior to his deportation to Auschwitz, and his ultimate death.

The poem was about life in a Jewish ghetto and his last sighting of a butterfly. It concludes:

That butterfly was the last one.

Butterflies don’t live here,

In the ghetto.

A Miami building contractor, Sidney Fagin took up sculpting in his retirement. His 9-foot sculpture, Benediction, graces the courtyard of the Kendall Jewish Community Center. Another version of Butterfly Boy, is located at the Fagin Holocaust Collection in New College’s Jane Bancroft-Cook Library in Sarasota. He created that sculpture at age 90.

During the March 26 program, Helen and her sister, Terrie, shared their story of survival during the Holocaust with a visiting middle school group.

Helen was born in Radomsko, Poland, and was the middle of three sisters. Before the war broke out, she experienced anti-Semitism at Jagiellonian University. The Jews were forced into a ghetto in Radomsko and forbidden from going to school, but Helen taught her younger sister and other children in secret. She read to them from Gone With the Wind. Though their parents were taken away on a raid, Helen and her sisters managed to hide. Later Helen escaped from deportation when the ghetto was liquidated. She and her sisters secured false papers for themselves from the underground, which kept them alive until liberation.

After the war, Helen immigrated to the United States, taught herself English and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Miami, where she became a professor of English and the director of Judaic Studies. Helen has received awards for her work promoting tolerance and in 1994, President Clinton invited her to be on the advisory board for the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. She also held an advisory position in the development of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.


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