Young Artists and Writers Respond to Testimony
In Spring 2009, more than 5,000 middle school and high school students participated in the 10th Annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest at Chapman University in Orange, California.
Presented by the university and the “1939” Club, a Los Angeles-based charitable organization made up of more than 1,000 Holocaust survivors, the contest encourages students to create a work of art or writing inspired by a Holocaust survivor’s story. This year, students were able to access testimony from the Institute’s archive as a basis for their projects (the testimonies were made available on the Echoes and Reflections: Full Visual Histories website).
For her entry in the High School Art category, 17-year-old senior Andrea Avendano of Laguna Hills High School viewed the testimony of Joseph Morton. “I drew a soldier,” she said of her drawing, Hope to Many Lives. “The soldier is holding a child’s hand, and the child has an expression of hope.”
Jasmine Martin, a 14-year-old freshman at Saddleback Valley Christian School, based her poem, The Fight against Death, on the testimony of Leo Bach:
My eyes scanned until they caught something with the last life they had;
Something dancing in the sunlight: a small piece of a shattered mirror.
As I searched into the depths of the mirror, I saw someone–
Someone different from the child staring back at it; someone dead inside
Screaming for new life, for a new identity, for something true,
Worth struggling and fighting for.
Before, I was scared of death and the screams that it brought.
Now, it is only a daily routine-a daily routine to witness death:
The death of a child, death of the spirit, death of the identity,
But no death in me.
Death had its grasp, but I threw it off. I couldn’t let it consume me.
It has shaped me the way nothing else could.
A ray of hope now bursts through my darkness; death has died. Now I am free.
“Most of the time you just see World War II movies and Holocaust movies,” said 17-year-old Hertz Allegrio, a senior whose painting, Turning a Blind Eye, was inspired by the testimony of Esther Clifford. “But this felt personal. It felt more relatable, because it wasn’t dramatized, it wasn’t sensationalized; it was her own true testimony.”
“Students understandably often feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the Holocaust as a historical event,” said Dr. Marilyn Harran, Stern Chair in Holocaust Education and Director of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University. “The Institute’s testimonies are a powerful tool in connecting students to the Holocaust by transforming history into story, giving students faces and voices to which they can connect and from whom they can learn.”
Poems and art work reproduced with permission of the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education, Chapman University.