Memphis Jewish Federation’s 8th Annual Holocaust Art and Essay Competition drew an unprecedented 87 essay entries and 85 art entries from students in Tennessee and the Mid-South. This year’s theme was Degradation and Dehumanization: The Nazi Assault on Human Dignity. The contest was sponsored by the Memphis Commissioners of the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, along with their spouses: Jack and Marilyn Belz, Allen and Eileen Exelbierd, Jan and Andy Groveman, Josh and Joanna Lipman, and Leonid and Friderica Saharovici.
JCPConnect will be publishing the two honorable mention essays, the second place winning essay, and the winning essay. Each will be paired with one of the top four winning art entries. Holocaust education is one way your giving helps keep our community connected.
Essay by Eli Gruen, 11th grade, Memphis University School. Art by Gabrielle Smith, 8th grade, Colonial Music School. -Photo by Steve Conroy
What could allow any person or group to participate in the genocide of millions of human beings? In the case of the Nazi party, they did not believe that they were killing human beings, but rather subhuman pests. Since the 4th Century CE, anti-Semitism had existed throughout Europe, so when the Nazis came to power they utilized all preexisting stereotypes to amass a widespread fear and hatred of Judaism. Comparing Jews to power-hungry beasts acted as a coping mechanism for German soldiers; it got rid of much of the mental toll that comes with taking the life of another person. The success of this method is astounding considering the extent of the Holocaust.
The Nazis’ effort to strip every Jewish man, woman, and child of his or her dignity took many different shapes, including humiliation, degradation, starvation, and – of course – extermination. One of the more mortifying acts to occur during the holocaust was the human experimentation carried out by the Nazis. Countless Jews, Romani, and Soviet prisoners were forced to endure many forms of experimental medical torture – including severe trauma, permanent disfigurement, mutilation, sterilization, and dehydration – most of which resulted in slow and/or painful death.
Another cruel practice that was performed by Nazis was the forced labor that they inflicted on Jews and other prisoners. This work was always performed in brutal conditions and often was carried out for no clear purpose or gain. These examples demonstrate the Nazis’ visible lack of humanity and failure to show even the slightest form of human decency to an entire race of people. It is almost impossible to comprehend how a group of people could inflict such horrific atrocities on to other countrymen and human beings, let alone the fact that these people truly believed that they were benefiting the world by doing so.
Every day, the number of living Holocaust survivors declines rapidly, but this does not mean that the awareness of such an important should decline as well. At no other point in human history has the dehumanization of such a large group of people taken place. At no other point in human history has humanity witnessed such large-scale prejudice against and extermination of an entire race. And nor should it ever again. For if we can put aside our own comfort and instead make the effort to call to mind the horrors of history, then surely we can prevent any other events such as the Holocaust and ensure a brighter future for all races.