Latino Children Learn About Migration Through Holocaust Stories

Apr 13, 2017

Stephanie Garcia, 17 of Beechview, read a biographical card about a Polish Boy named Aaron.

“His mother’s name was Louisa, his father’s name was Sigmund,” she said. “Aaron died in Shoah when he was a boy. His age, date and where he died have not been recorded.”

Shoah is the Hebrew word used to describe the Holocaust. Garcia read the card as she painted a ceramic butterfly. It was part of a Holocaust remembrance project through the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood. 

The butterfly is a symbol of freedom to represent the children who were not free, said Lauren Bairsnfather of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh in Squirrel Hill.

This year, the center is taking part in a national project to paint 1.5 million butterflies, which is around the number of children who died during the Holocaust. The project started in 2006 and was inspired by a poem written by a child in a concentration camp. 

Lauren Bairnsfather, director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, reads a poem written by a child in a concentration camp during the Holocaust.
Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Bairnsfather read the poem, which details life in a concentration camp and of longing to return home. The poem was then read in Spanish by a member of the Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s Latino Family Center.

Organizers said they hoped to promote acceptance and tolerance, as well as guide conversations about those who were killed.

“For Jewish people, we’ve always been immigrants," Bairnsfather. "We’ve often been strangers in strange land. We have empathy for people who are newcomers who are maybe not welcome. And we want to welcome them."

Bairnsfather the Jewish people had a long history of migration and noted similarities to immigration in the United States.

“We know that had the Jews been able to migrate out of Nazi Germany past a certain point out of certain parts of Europe, many people would have survived,” she said.

Garcia said she hadn’t recognized that connection before.

“It relates,” she said. “They want to welcome us because they know what it’s like.”

Luz Esquivel, 9, also read the card about Aaron who died at a young age, likely in a concentration camp. 

"It makes me kind of frustrated," she said, "because everyone deserves to live and not die at a young age."

Esquivel is the daughter of Martin Esquivel-Hernandez, who was deported to Mexico in February after he was held for eight months in prison. His immigration case received national attention as activists protested his possible deportation for months.

Rosa Maria Cristello, director of the Latino Family Center, said the workshop is one way to support another community.

“Just making sure that no matter our differences and no matter any of that, we are all human and … if we see injustice happen, we should stand up for that community,” she said.

Bairnsfather said she has worked with several other groups to paint the butterflies. When they’re completed, they’ll be on display at the center in the fall.