The Fackenthall family’s varied artistic talents, combined with their shared interest in the Holocaust, has turned them into perennial winners of a local Shoah-related arts competition for middle and high school students.
With a mother who’s been involved in the Anne Frank Theatre Project for more than a dozen years, a brother who won the video portion of the contest in 2010 for his portrayal of Kristallnacht and a twin sister who won last year for her depiction of the Kindertransport, winning this year’s Mordechai Anielewicz Arts Competition was a seemingly natural progression for Chrissie Fackenthall.
The Swarthmore eighth-grader’s mosaic portrait of Anne Frank was one of five entries to earn a top prize in the art category for middle schoolers.
“It’s important that people my age know about the Holocaust, because in the future when all of the Holocaust survivors aren’t around anymore, there would start to be Holocaust deniers and kids my age would know that it did happen,” Chrissie Fackenthall said.
The announcement of Fackenthall’s success came shortly before Yom Hashoah, Holocaust memorial day, which commences on the evening of April 27. The day will be marked around the world by various ceremonies.
Locally, the 50th annual Yom Hashoah commemoration on 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway will feature performances from the Philadelphia Boys and Girls Choirs as well as an address from James Young, director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Fackenthall said she spent two months composing the little pieces of paint chips that make up her mosaic of Anne Frank.
The 14-year-old traces her interest in Frank to her mother, Ann Thaller, a nurse who has participated in the Anne Frank Theatre Project for the last 14 years, often playing the role of Mrs. Frank at the educational theater program run by the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center at the Klein JCC in the Northeast.
“As I grew older and older, she would tell me more about” Anne Frank’s story, Fackenthall said.
Fackenthall said she became even more interested in the Holocaust after acting in her brother Michael’s contest-winning film, Kristallnacht From a Child’s Perspective, in 2010.
As part of their Bat Mitzvah project last year, Chrissie and fraternal twin sister, Ana, met Holocaust survivor Ilse Lindemeyer, who was one of 10,000 children sent from Germany to the United Kingdom without their families as part of the Kindertransport. Fackenthall said learning about Lindemeyer’s struggles had a profound effect on her.
“It kind of shocked me that the people who took care of her were kind of harsh on her because she didn’t speak English very well,” she said.
The annual Mordechai Anielewicz Arts Competition, run by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, has, since 1973, attracted young artists in a wide range of categories, including prose, poetry, painting, music and dance.
Its goal is to encourage the 400 or so middle and high school students who participate to respond to the lessons of the Holocaust and related issues of ethnic, racial and religious intolerance through creative expression, according to Beth Razin, who manages Holocaust and Israel programs for Federation, which also sponsors the community Yom Hashoah event.
From Thaller’s perspective, “any kind of art or median that allows children to express their feelings, whether it’s fear or happiness, is a good thing. The Holocaust is a very difficult story to tell, but children have to understand that bad things happen to good people, and at some point in your life you’re going to have to understand that life isn’t always fair.”