At last month's Yom HaShoah observance — a Holocaust memorial service — at Ohavay Zion Synagogue, winners of the 10th annual Emilie Szekely Holocaust Awareness Writing Project read their essays.
The contest is held in memory of Szekely, a Holocaust survivor who, for many years, dedicated herself to speaking to students in Kentucky about her experiences in concentration camps at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. The project is an effort to continue her life's work, said her son George Szekely, an art professor at the University of Kentucky.
"Remembering the Holocaust" by Amelia Hurt, eighth grade, Tates Creek Middle School
What do we do when monsters walk the Earth, inhuman cruelty lurking behind such human eyes, stealing souls away from their homes only because they are different, condemning them to short lives of horror and deaths that seem to linger an eternity? We thank God it is not us the monsters seek and move on.
How do we react when bodies walk the streets, shells of people bound in chains, defeated and trudging along, their forlorn and terrified faces the only part of them that even seems alive and their own legs carrying them to their deaths? We stand aside and pretend not to see.
What do we say when a sadistic man rises to power and preaches of his plans to eliminate an entire people because they are so easy to blame for all his country's problems, and it seems like everyone listens and agrees without question? Absolutely nothing.
This sounds like an unspeakable nightmare, surreal but painfully tangible. But in reality, this is not a frightening dream; it is a disturbing memory. In the 1930s and '40s, this is exactly what happened.
During this time in history, people of the Jewish ethnicity became the scapegoat for German society. Adolf Hitler, a very cunning and skillful man, evil in all his ways, made influential speeches to the people of Germany, convincing them that all of Germany's problems were entirely caused by Jews. His ignorance spread like wildfire. Everywhere, his face became plastered on walls and his words were worshipped like the testaments of a god. Hitler gathered an army of what were called the Nazis that made his opinion a way of life to anyone who would cooperate and then silenced anyone who didn't.
But Hitler and his men's most brutal action was the systematic murder, or genocide, of millions of "undesirables": the Jews. This period of hatred and prejudice was called the Holocaust.
Some may believe the Holocaust was entirely Hitler's fault. He started the spark, so the fire that followed was all his doing. They are wrong. What about everyone else, people who physically had nothing to do with the Holocaust, but watched while it happened, totally aware? Where were they?
They were standing aside, allowing millions to perish under the reign of demons, knowing it was wrong, but never attempting to intervene. Then, as soon as they were confronted with the truth, they denied ever having suspected any violence among such prejudice as a way of keeping blood off their hands and their dishonorable decision of keeping mum from haunting their conscience. No one stepped up and spoke out against the Holocaust when it really mattered. There was no mercy, for few were courageous enough to give it. Scared, innocent people were caught in the midst of pointless discrimination, and they needed someone to come and provide that mercy. Stripped of their humanity, weak, and surrounded by hatred, so many relied on the thinning hope of rescue for the will to go on. Yet we sat and did nothing, It was just as much the fault of the bystanders who let it happen.
It is everyone's responsibility to create a better, undivided world, and the Holocaust was a time when those responsibilities should have been embraced and acted upon instead of shunned. We cannot simply play the roles of bystanders and wait around for people to save themselves. We have to speak out against the discrimination we see in people no matter how minuscule or seemingly unimportant it may be. We have to care. We have to see the wrong that is placed right in front of us no matter how hard it is to accept. But most of all, we need to understand the horrors the human race is capable of and fight for them to end.
I know this probably sounds like a tall order to some, but honestly it's easier than it seems. What all of this basically boils down to is to make a difference, we cannot be indifferent. When someone is suffering, anyone else caring is a blessing, even now when society is not nearly as divided as it has been in recent times.
We could do things as small as telling a bully in school to stop ridiculing another student or befriending a new, unaccepted employee at work. We could start forming relationships that are blind to ethnicity, gender and race and develop a mind-set that all people are equal. Even little actions like this could make a very meaningful change in one person's or many people's lives. We need to remember the Holocaust. It reminds us of all the tragedies prejudice can cause and how long something so terrible could continue when no one fights for its victims. We have to keep the souls of the departed close in our hearts, for they will give us all the reason we need to keep something like the Holocaust from ever happening again.
"Why We Should Remember the Holocaust" by Amelia Loeffler, fourth grade, SCAPA
During World War II, a man named Adolf Hitler gained control of a huge army called the Nazis in 1933. Hitler's goal was to kill every Jew and disabled person. He started small by making rules that made it against the law for Jewish people to have a job or own stores. He made all of the Jewish people wear a yellow star. Then he started to take all of the Jews and "relocate" them. He took them to concentration camps and made them work. They were given almost no food and many starved. Many Jews died because the Nazis killed them. In all about 11 million people died, and about one-quarter of all those people were children under the age of 15. Can you imagine living in a country where people are being killed just because they are different?
We should be very thankful that we do not live in a country where people are being killed just because a dictator is in charge, and be thankful that we are all treated equally. Today we live in a country where the government is run by more than one person. We have a president, vice president, Senate and a Congress. We vote for the person that we think should be in charge. In our fortunate country people are not killed or taken away because they are a certain religion. In the United States all people have equal rights.
We should learn about the Holocaust and remember all the people who died. We should remember the courageous members of the Resistance, and the people who were killed by Hitler and his army of Nazis. The Resistance was made up of people who knew what Hitler was doing was wrong. They secretly tried to stop the Nazis by destroying buildings and things that were valuable to the Nazis. If they were discovered they would be killed. The people that were members of the Resistance didn't know the real names of the other people in the Resistance. That way if the Nazis discovered that one person was in it and wanted to know the names of others that were in the Resistance the person could truthfully say that they didn't know.
If we don't learn about the Holocaust then it might be repeated. That might happen because people might not know to stop a bad person from gaining power. People might not know how to protect themselves, and other countries might not get involved until it is almost too late to stop the killing. This would be bad and people could get killed. If people are told about the Holocaust then they'll know more about how bad dictators are and that dictators should be stopped.
Learning about the Holocaust is important because if we don't then how can we appreciate the brave members of the Resistance, or remember the people who perished? If we don't learn about the Holocaust then tragic events might be repeated. Learning about the Holocaust is important because if we don't then bad things might happen and the Holocaust might be forgotten.