Friedmann was born in Prague. Little is known about his early life. When he was 21, the occupying German authorities had him transported from Prague to Theresienstadt concentration camp, in the fortress and garrison city of Terezín (German name Theresienstadt), in what is now the Czech Republic. His arrival was recorded on 28 April 1942.
On 4 June 1942 he wrote the poem "The Butterfly" on a piece of thin copy paper. Several of his poems were discovered after the liberation of Czechoslovakia and subsequently donated to the State Jewish Museum (now the Jewish Museum in Prague).
The text of The Butterfly was discovered at Theresienstadt after the concentration camp was liberated. It has been included in collections of children’s literature from the Holocaust era, most notably the anthology I Never Saw Another Butterfly, first published by Hana Volavková and Jiří Weil in 1959. The poem also inspired the Butterfly Project of the Holocaust Museum Houston, an exhibition where 1.5 million paper butterflies were created to symbolize the same number of children who were murdered in the Holocaust. The Butterfly has inspired many works of art that remember the children of the Holocaust, including a song cycle and a play.
The Butterfly (English translation)
- The last, the very last,
- So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
- Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing
- against a white stone. . . .
- Such, such a yellow
- Is carried lightly 'way up high.
- It went away I'm sure because it wished to
- kiss the world good-bye.
- For seven weeks I've lived in here,
- Penned up inside this ghetto.
- But I have found what I love here.
- The dandelions call to me
- And the white chestnut branches in the court.
- Only I never saw another butterfly.
- That butterfly was the last one.
- Butterflies don't live in here,
- in the ghetto.
- "Pavel Friedmann". Database of Victims. Holocaust.cz. Retrieved 31 May 2018.
- Jewish Museum in Prague online collection.
- Maria Sciullo (April 9, 2009). "Butterfly Project heeds call of Holocaust victims: 'Remember us'". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved September 13, 2010.
- Brown, Kellie D. (2020). The sound of hope: Music as solace, resistance and salvation during the holocaust and world war II. McFarland. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-4766-7056-0.