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Creative Interpretations of the Holocaust

June 4, 2013
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"My Babci-My Babci, My Hero," by Kaitlyn Boyle, 11th grader at Creative and Performing Arts High School. Photo by Beth Razin.

Through poems, short stories, plays, artwork and even songs, Philadelphia-area middle and high school students showcased their creative interpretations of the Holocaust at the 2013 Mordechai Anielewicz Creative Arts Competition.

The participants were honored at an awards ceremony at Moore College of Art and Design in Center City on June 3. 

Read on for a sampling of the winning entries, and click the multimedia link to the right for a slideshow of student artwork. Another photo gallery from the event is also posted here from the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. 

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Let Go

By Christina Morton

Mama takes my hand

And I take Papa’s

And we stand at the window

Hand in hand

I begin to cry

As my Mama begins to cry

And she whispers down to me, and tells me I can fly

She says I can fly

But I think I know I can’t

And Mama knows she can’t

And Papa knows he can’t

But we don’t want to think about the cant’s

We just want to think about another place

A different place

A simple place

And I am ready for that place

So I step onto the ledge

And Mama steps onto the ledge

And Papa steps  onto the ledge

And we welcome that place

Standing on that ledge

Mama whispers

Let go

Papa whispers

Let go

And so I let go.

There Was a Place

By Andrew Kleiman

There was a place.

There was a place with sharp barbed wire fences

With soulless concrete buildings

With the smell of death.

There was a place with dirty, stale bread,

Where innocent people were enslaved

With cruel, evil men.

There was place with billows of grey smoke rising from it,

Where people were reduced to animals ;

Where innocents turned to ash.

There was a place that was devoid of justice

With freezing barracks ,

Where people’s bodies were broken.

There was a place that tolerance forgot

Whose name means fear, inhumanity, and death;

Where disease ran rampant.

There was a place where people’s laments went unheard.

There was a place.

But the world chose to believe there wasn’t. 

Heartbeat of the Dead (The Experiences of Children)

By Sabrina Guevril

We were the many hopefuls
waiting
for a chance to be free
Waiting
for the day we'd grow up
and live our lives
because we wanted our voices heard too.
The chance never came
Like electricity during a power surge,
our voices were cut off
when we least expected it.
And for while
we were silent
and maybe even forgotten.
Now we continue to live
in the stories told
in the memories held.
No longer are we
the faceless
or the nameless.
Our heartbeats grow
As a wave does in the ocean
quickly gaining power
with a rushing roaring sound
it says
We are the children of the Holocaust
We were there
We are here.

The Last Tears

By Casey Mitchell

If there was but a single night

Remembered from our time in the camp

Then it would be the night

They stole the pipel’s life.

His face was a delicate rarity,

Full of beauty and health.

Pools of innocent concern rested in his eyes,

And his heart was swollen with compassion.

We knew of his fate when we saw the black ravens.

Three gallows stood next to their victims.

The machine guns stared us in the eye,

And dared us to act out as we gathered around

 Like a funeral for the not yet dead.

Choked sobs interrupted the deafening silence.

Tonight, everyone was as helpless as the boy

Who calmly awaited his own demise.

The chairs did not resist,

And they did not defy their command

To release the men and the boy.

The men were extinguished like a fire,

Leaving behind tendrils of curling smoke to

Whisper the harsh reality in our ears.

The death of the boy was like the setting sun around us.

As the minutes went by,

The light emitting from him grew dimmer.

People had just one question:

Where was God?

How could they not see the answer, plain and clear?

God was in front of them.

Nearly gone now.

The serpent around his neck had finally won.

God’s last breath,

Full of the hope and love

That once graced the Earth,

Was being stolen away.

For half an hour,

We watched him struggle between life and death,

Between sad angel, and writhing boy.

It seemed the last flower to exist

Had wilted.

Identify

By Alexandra Cipriano

Crash!

I lower myself into

The white wicker chair

As if into a dream:

A nightmare.

Shhh… 

Salty spray surges toward
The shoremy, their, our shore?

 Or is this collection of tears,

Petrified as this dust of ages

By the fear to stand alone

Meant as the Nazis’ burden?

Bwhoosh…

A syllable of the sea’s song.

I lend it one of my own:

“Feliks”,

Meaning “lucky”:

A normal name

For your average Polish boy…

Or, so he would have been, if—

Crash!

There goes one year,

And a particular one, too:

Nineteen Forty-two, when the Gestapo

Stole Rabbi Adamski from home

And Hitler’s charmed country-turned-snake

Tore off his and his son Feliks’s

Label of humanity and

Replaced it with prison rags

As ill-fitting as their fate.

Their self-identity no longer a name,

But an inmate number melded

Irrevocably in the flesh,

With the starved face

Of Dachau as a mirror.

No, lucky he was no—longer

And longer draw out the waves

Until I can almost glean

From them the look of a

Ten-year-old, Britain-raised

Polish-born girl the second

She abandoned her naïveté

Of this world war in

The sea, the unseeing,

Blank water of her relative’s eyes

A survivor they all called

Lucky…to be alive.

It is low tide.

The sea holds its breath

Over April twenty-ninth,

Nineteen forty-five.

Americans liberate Dachau

To the macabre silence

Of victors too drained to rejoice,

Yet these events awake the world.

My cousin Feliks, in time,

Came to stay with us, but,

Like a living wraith,

I did not use his name.

Believing that,

In doing so, I might catch

The pandemic of loss.

At ten years old,

I was more afraid

Of his skeleton skin

And his firm-set mouth

Than any far British broadcast

Of numbers and figures,

Which drummed my conscience

Like these whitecaps that
Strike the sand but leave

Surfaces smooth in their wake.

His presence in our house

Was a footprint which defied

Belief, defied the wave

Of icy hatred.

Sixty years,

Too late, I cry,

“I identify!”

I am British by residence;

Polish by nationality,

A Jew by choice.

My other quarter

Decided to belong

To the nineteen forties.

Now, my old age knows

Atonement is a sunrise.

The notion taunts us daily,

Far above our heads.

I reach up for it each morning

And, though it does not

Fall into my hands,

Ours, outstretched,

No closer than before,

It throws charity at the least,

Hot light to greet us,

Entreating me

To believe that

It also dawns

In Dachau,

In Warsaw,

And also in

Jerusalem.

Joshua’s Story

By Sabrina Guevril

The door opened and light suddenly filled the once dark cellar. I slowly unfurled my arms and almost cried in relief as the feeling came back to them. Although I was grateful to have a place to hide when the French police did their roundups, I had often wished it was more comfortable. Many more times I have also wished that I did not have to hide at all. I heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up to see little Evelyne running down them. “Joshua,” she whispered quite loudly. “Are you still sleeping? Maman has made breakfast.” At the sound of breakfast I realized that I was particularly hungry this morning from not being able to finish dinner last night.
​            “I’m up little one,” I say. “Tell your mother I will be upstairs soon but first promise me that you’ll remember to only call me Jacques” I am stern while saying this to her to try to get her to see how important it is for her to remember.

“I promise Jo- Jacques, mais pourquoi.” Her face scrunches up in confusion as she says this. There are many things that she doesn’t know about this war. About, why nobody stays outside for too long anymore. About why most of her old friends are gone from school now. Or about why I am hiding in her family’s cellar.
​            “The French police want to arrest people with names like mine. Right now Joshua is not a good name to have.”
​            “I like the name Joshua, but I will call you Jacques to keep you safe.” She wraps her small arms around my neck in a hug and then runs upstairs to tell her mother that I am awake.
It makes me angry to think of children like Evelyne having to bear witness to such a terrible time. Then again, I guess it is not so hard for because she is not Jewish. If she were Jewish, she would be down in this depressing basement with me and there would be no lovely smile on her face. She would never have the pleasure of watching her parents get arrested like I did. Oh! I had often imagined going back in time to the kitchen table where I sat as a child, still not fully aware of the world’s evil. I can still remember the smell warm smell of my mother and the scratch of my father’s beard as we held each other in a final embrace.
​            “Maman,” I say wiping sleep from my eyes. “Why are we up so early?” My mother takes a break from all her packing to look at me. She kisses and holds me tight for a moment, and I can feel the tears on her face transfer to mine.
​            “Joshua don't you remember? Yesterday I told you that we are going to live with your uncle in the village until it is safe to come back. This may be the only chance we get, so we must be quick.”  Turning away quickly, my mother returns to packing our clothes and I hurry to eat the piece of bread she left for me.  There were few times during when my mother was as serious as she was now and even as a child of 11 years, I could sense that my already strange world was about to change; possibly for the worse.

Papa came out his room then to join us in the kitchen. He goes up to Maman, squeezes her tightly and follows that with a long kiss. Papa also invites me into his embrace with Maman. It surprises me greatly because even before the war Papa wasn't very affectionate. It worries me greatly, but I don't speak out for fear of losing this rare moment.
Just as I start to snuggle in closer someone knocks on our door and I feel my parents stiffen around me. They look at each other and then at me, all while the pounding on the door resumes. "C'est la police. Ouvre la porte."

My mother suddenly comes alive at this. She pours all of her love into a kiss that she places on my forehead and grabs my father's hand. Looking out the window she says to him, "Jonathan go quickly to the roof with Joshua. I will stall the police for as long as I can but you must hurry." My father starts to protest at this, but another call to open the door and a pleading look from my mother is all it takes for him to pull me to the window.

"Papa why is Maman staying?" I ask as we struggle to open the window.

             "She will be safe," he says, as he starts helping me get to the roof. "The police do not want to arrest women and children now. Just the men, but they'll take you away if you look old enough."

Then we hear Maman say, "No my husband is not here. He went out just a minute ago and I do not know where."

Whatever Maman is saying to the officers is not enough to stop them; Papa and I can feel them getting closer. There is no time to get Papa through the window so he closes it with still outside. Through the glass I see him motion for me be quiet. Now Maman and the police have reached where Papa is standing. Maman runs to him crying and saying she did the best that she could. Papa does his best to keep his arm around her, but the police are restraining his arms to take him away and they make Maman follow them out the door.  When they get outside I watch from over the ledge and silent tears fall down my face as I realize I may never see my parents again.

             I take a deep breath and shake the memory from me. Instead, I think of how lucky I am to have spent four years fiercely guarded by Madame Kapp and her family. If her brother had not spotted me on the ledge and then rushed to bring me to Arthès I would most likely be dead. Their generosity has inspired me to do more and so today I will join the town's resistance group. But first I must go and eat breakfast.

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