1st Place Essay from 14th Annual Holocaust Art and Essay Contest

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By: Nadav Lowell, 11th grade, Cooper Yeshiva High School for Boys

According to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 1,350,000 Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust, leaving only 150,000 surviving. Those that survived did not escape unscathed; many witnessed horrific deaths and horrible crimes. Children were forced to grow up fast and become self-reliant if they wanted to survive.

Most of the ways Jewish children survived were hazardous. Many children hid in bunkers, attics, or other hideaways, in constant fear of discovery. Some lived in the forest. Some children were sent to live with family and friends, and a lucky few were brought to England (via “Kindertransport”). A great many parents gave their children to the church, even knowing their children might be converted. Some parents encouraged children to hide their Jewish identity.

Given all of the above, I wonder what inner qualities and practices kept children alive, resilient, and even identified as Jewish, especially considering limited Jewish education. How did Jewish youth, after witnessing so many horrors and so much tragedy, stay true to their faith and their people?

To help me answer these questions, I turn to the writings of the Jewish youth, carefully collected and maintained by the Yad Vashem archives and others. For example, we have letters written by Hearshc Pollock, Chiya Marla, Jacob Marcus, and dozens more. Heartbreakingly, many of these were written not only to their own families but to neighboring Poles, community rabbis, and others, begging and pleading for interventions to save and protect their loved ones. These letters show me how these children-maintained hopes and dreams, and care for others, even while suffering and struggling themselves.

The Holocaust Art and Essay contest is hosted annually by Memphis Jewish Federation. Students in grades 9-12 across Tennessee and the Mid-South are invited to submit essays. This year’s theme was Courage and Hope: The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Child.

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