1,500,000 buttons

February 21, 2017 by Talia Katz
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Melbourne’s Bialik College has achieved its goal of collecting 1.5 million buttons each one representing a child murdered in the Holocaust…a plan devised almost ten years ago.

Josh Frydenberg

In 2007, the Year 4 Hebrew-English bilingual class at Bialik College, along with their teachers Dalia Gurfinkel and Soni Levenson, visioned a commemoration of the children murdered in the Holocaust as a collection of buttons. “Buttons,” they said, “like children, come in many different shapes, sizes and colours. Buttons hold a garment together and children hold a family together”. They set a goal of collecting 1.5 million buttons – the number of children killed during the Holocaust as estimated by Yad Vashem.

Almost exactly 10 years later, Bialik College achieved its goal and on 17 February 2017, the College held an opening ceremony to unveil the Button Project Installation. There were over 250 guests in attendance, including senior students, Bialik grandparent Holocaust survivors, leaders of the Jewish community and parliamentarians Josh Frydenberg MP, Federal Member for Kooyong and Minister for the Environment and Energy; John Pesutto MP, State Member for Hawthorn and Shadow Attorney-General; Michael Danby MP Federal Member for Melbourne Ports, and David Southwick MP for Caulfield.

A moving tribute was screened as a trailer precursor to the Button Documentary Film being produced to tell the story of the Button Project, with a haunting melody performed by alumni Tiah Gordon, who recorded the song “Ponar” at the Belzec concentration camp in 2016.

Jeremy Stowe-Lindner, Kate Beaconsfield, Helen Mahemoff [Bialik president]and Josh Frydenberg

Guests were given the opportunity of placing their own buttons into the canister for Poland, which houses over 750,000 buttons and weighs 450 kilograms – each button representing the unique life of a child lost to this world.

“An outstanding feature of this entire project was the wider communal involvement” said Principal Jeremy Stowe-Lindner, “buttons have been sent to Bialik from all over Australia including from farmers in rural Australia, schools as far north as Alice Springs, Perth, Sydney, Queensland – universities and individuals – as young as 3 and older than 93; but also from the wider world including America, New Zealand, Israel, Russia and France. Many schools of different faiths also held button collection drives and sent us their contributions. Moreover, every single one of those 1.5 million buttons has been individually counted by someone (from as young as 3yrs old to over 80yrs old), as we felt it was very important to be as accurate as we could be in our desire to honour each of the lives that were lost.”

The Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow, sent the following message to Bialik College for the Button Project Opening:

“It is sometimes difficult to comprehend the scale of the Holocaust. In recognition of this, the Auschwitz museum displays the toothbrushes, shoes and other everyday items of those who perished in the concentration camp and gas chambers. Seeing those individual objects behind glass, as I have, gives a sense of the scale of the tragedy and injustice in a way that raw numbers of an incomprehensible scale cannot. I commend the staff and students from Bialik College for collecting buttons for the Bialik Button Project to honour the 1.5 million children who were killed in the Holocaust. It’s said that those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it. Recognising the scale of the Holocaust helps to ensure that horrors of this scale are never repeated.”

From 26 June – 30 June 2017, Bialik College will have an “open week” to commemorate the school’s 75 year history and the general public are welcome to visit and view the button installation any time during that week.

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