They are stark, profound ideas for Jewish middle and high school to ponder: the portrayal of Jews as rats, dogs, and parasites in Nazi propaganda; the Nazi obsession with racial purity; Nazi medical experimentation “for the greater good”; Nazi ideology asserting that Jews posed a serious threat to German society; Nazi exploitation of victims for “labor” that had no purpose; Nazi torture of victims for the sole purpose of entertainment. But a careful understanding of the Holocaust is a vital part of Jewish life.
All 6-12 students in Tennessee and the Mid-South are invited to participate in Memphis Jewish Federation’s 8th Annual Holocaust Art and Essay Competition. Students in grades 6-8 are invited to submit artwork, and students in grades 9-12 are invited to submit essays. To learn about this year’s competition and art and essay guidelines, visit the JCP website.
Above, last year’s winning piece, by Colonial Middle Schooler Jehiely Garcia, haunts us with near-abstract human forms silently screaming in anguish beneath the loathsome and cruel German phrase: “Work sets you free,” which greeted prisoners as they first entered many of the Nazi Death Camps.
“For my project, I drew people who survived the Holocaust coming out of a concentration camp called Auschwitz-Birkenau,” Garcia wrote about the piece. “The expressions on their faces tell how they feel. They were angry, depressed, and traumatized.
“On their chests, I drew the Star of David, which the Jews had to wear during the time of the Nazis. The stars are imprinted on them to show that they are segregated from other races. Above their heads is the entrance sign for the death camp. Above that, there is a rainbow with its colors dripping down like rain or drops of blood. This is supposed to represent broken or fading hope. Below the rainbow, there are tree branches stripped of their leaves, just as the survivors had been stripped of their lives. For my medium, I chose charcoal because it expressed the dark mood I wanted to express, and because I liked the texture on the paper. I also used watercolor to paint the rainbow to make the dripping technique.
“In my work, I wanted people to see that the Holocaust really happened, and that it was a cruel and brutal genocide.”
JJ Kampf took the top prize in the 2016 Essay Competition for his essay An Open Letter to Holocaust Denier David Irving, which he read at last year’s Yom HaShoah gathering. Take a moment to read his work, which is wise beyond his years, published below.
Congratulations. Your life mission to denounce the systematic genocide of six million Jews by the Nazi Regime during World War II grows easier as time slowly creeps by. With many survivors gone and memories faded, the threat of the self-proclaimed “historical revisionist”— who declares the Holocaust an event fabricated by the Jews in order to gain sympathy and dollars— seems to grow stronger each day.
However, Mr. Irving, I write to you today as a proud member of the third generation of Jews after the tragedies of the Holocaust, and I assure you that no matter how far removed we may become from the physical events of World War II, the horrors that took place will never be forgotten or undermined.
In one of your famous speeches, you incredulously wonder: “How is it possible to gas millions of people in gas chambers and yet leave no significant residue of the poison gas used in the fabric of that gas chamber?” Yet, I too wonder: How can you dismiss the documented photographs and footage of thousands of Jewish lives reduced to piles of decaying bodies? How can you deny the testimony of World War II Nazi soldier Franz Suchomel, who confessed to witnessing the gassing as Jewish men, women and children crumbled lifelessly out of the chambers “like potatoes”?
Mr. Irving, people of all races and religions perished in World War II. From military soldiers to victims of the Pearl Harbor bombing, the mid 1900s saw dreams crushed and families broken. The Jewish population decrease during this time, however, was unprecedented in its systematic and scientific nature. In one of the surviving Nazi documents, Karl Jäger, commander of the Jewish extermination unit Einsatzkommando 3, writes that on the twenty-third of August 1941, in the small Lithuanian village of Ponovitch, his unit murdered “1,312 Jewish males, 4,602 Jewish females, and 1,609 Jewish children.” The sheer precision with which the Nazis annihilated the Jewish people is bone chilling.
Mr. Irving, in many ways you are similar to the very men who carried out the great tragedies of the Holocaust. The Nazis encrypted their mass killings in the same way you mask your radical antisemitism. You call the pure dismissal of clear evidence as a means to perpetrate hatred on a religious group “historical revisionism.” The Nazis referred to gathering one hundred Jews together to dig their own graves as “special treatment.” Gassing to death was “processing,” and the transport of Jews to extermination camps for cremation was “resettlement.” These euphemisms epitomized Nazi Germany: externally progressive, but pure evil at the core.
This summer, I will be participating in Jewish Overseas Leadership Training. I will travel to Poland to experience the physical reality of the Shoah for the first time in my life. I will visit the Children’s Grave in Kielce, Poland, where 800 Jewish children were ritually massacred. I will visit the Warsaw ghetto, where Jewish men risked their lives to wear tefillin in the morning. And while we will mourn the dead and lament their suffering, we will also celebrate the freedom we are so lucky to be blessed with today.
Finally, Mr. Irving, I thank you. You give the Jewish nation a daily reminder that we must never forget. We must never forget the anguished parents, sobbing for their missing children. The scared orphans, stranded with no direction. We must never forget the last goodbye of a relative taken away in a cattle car, or the last shema yisrael of a young man, calling out to God in the face of a Nazi firing squad. We must never forget.