Every year students from Pittsburgh area middle schools and high schools (public, private, parochial, charter and home school) as well as high school students from Pittsburgh’s Israeli sister cities Karmiel/Misgav are invited to submit entries to the Waldman International Arts and Writing Competition, held in conjunction with Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, more than 300 entries were submitted, with 29 selected as winners.
Barbara Burstin, professor of Holocaust studies at Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, explains that “this contest is important because it prompts the young people to do more than just learn about the Holocaust; they have to internalize it, to feel it, to be moved by this great tragedy in order to be able to create something special for this competition. They come to a better understanding of the meaning of the Shoah.”
An example of that is Inbal Ben Zichri, an 11th-grader at Misgav High School in Israel who penned a letter from Mordechai Anielewicz, commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising to his wife, just before he dies. In it Inbal has him write, “Although I know we cannot beat the Nazis, I also know that if we do not fight, no one will fight for us.”
The winners of this event were recognized and honored this past Sunday at the Andy Warhol Museum. The Israeli teens were brought to Pittsburgh for a week of touring and visiting schools, while being hosted by local families. Winning entries in the three categories of creative writing, visual arts and short films were on display at the Warhol, accompanied by the young writers and artists and, for the Pittsburgh students, their proud parents.
Andrea Holber, middle school first-place winner from Community Day School, crafted a beautiful work of art based on the writings of Sophia Scholl, member of the anti-Nazi student resistance group The White Rose. Andrea wrote Scholl’s words on paper, sculpted a rose out of it and affixed the rose onto a canvas, where she had painted these words from Scholl: “Stand up for what you believe in even if you are standing alone.”
Andrea’s family had lost many relatives in the Holocaust. She believes that “If more people were like Sophia Scholl then there would have been fewer people who died.”
Rivky Davidson, eighth-grade student at Yeshiva Schools of Pittsburgh, produced a short film, “Escape to Rescue: The Vrba Wetzler Report,” which combines music, stills and Rivky’s narration to tell a little known story of two escapees from Auschwitz who try to warn the Hungarian Jews. Rivky decided she wanted to do a documentary and put many hours into learning how to use a movie-maker program on her home computer.
Rivky explained that it was inspiring for her to know that “even during the Holocaust, where there was so much evil, there were still people who tried to do good.” Referencing a lesson that she learned at school, Rivky quotes Pirke Avos, “In a place where there are no decent people, you have to strive to be that decent person.”
Rivky’s grandfather was on the Kindertransport from Austria to England and has shared his experiences with his granddaughter.
The three winning film entries from Israeli teens are all powerful works of beauty, sensitivity and depth dealing with the question, “What is a hero?” First-place winner, Einav Dahan, of Karmiel, stated her position in her video honoring her Savta Shifra, “My heroes are not just the people who held a gun and fought. My heroes are the people who stayed human and took care of the weaker people despite the horror.”
The second-place film, “Alone,” by Hila Keren, features Holocaust survivor, Eliezer, who now lives in Israel. Told with dance and interviews, Hila sees Eliezer as a hero and his survival as “a symbol of victory over the Nazis.” The third-place film by Sagi Shalom is a touching animated short illustrating that “a hero is someone that, in spite of all the hardships of the camps, chose life.”
The stated mission of the Holocaust Center is to be a catalyst for changing attitudes and behaviors through Holocaust education. General studies director, Yeshiva Girls’ School, Leah-Perl Shollar points out that studying Jewish history is a divinely ordained activity. She emphasizes that “Holocaust education is crucial for combating anti-Semitism and persecution; without absorbing those lessons, ‘never again’ is simply a slogan. By learning about the Holocaust we honor the memories of those who died and give thanks for those who survived. The bravery of the rescuers and righteous gentiles model what it means to stand up for truth and justice, and inspire us.”
“Real Life Superheroes in the Face of Persecution,” this year’s theme, had three Areas of Focus. One was Superheroes of the Holocaust. The other two, Resistance Art/Degenerate Art and Persecuted and Exiled Intellectuals, allowed entries about people who were “Jewish or non-Jewish and [were] not limited to the time of the Holocaust.” Judging for each category was done by local and Israeli arts professionals.
The Holocaust Center partnered with The Andy Warhol Museum, JFilm: The Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum and Partnership 2Gether (P2G) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh on this event that included a meet-and-greet with Pittsburgh artists, a silent art auction and a keynote speaker, who encouraged young artists.
Samantha Chilton, senior associate of the Holocaust Center is “very thankful to Hal and Diane Waldman for their continued support” and is “excited by the number and the quality of the entries this year.”
All winning entries can be seen on the Holocaust Center’s website, Holocaust
CenterPgh.org, and selected ones can be seen on its Facebook page, facebook.com/HCofPittsburgh. The links will be up next week and will remain up until the end of the school year.
Simone Shapiro can be reached at email@example.com.