Three of our 8th graders were recently invited to spend the day at Chapman University after submitting entries into the University’s Annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest. Grace, Jenna and Lauren were able to learn about the Holocaust in a very unique way, meeting survivors of the Holocaust and learning about their personal stories. It was truly a phenomenal opportunity!
A special adulation is due to 8th grader Grace, as her essay was a top three finalist in this year’s contest. The following is Grace’s essay:
Elie Wisel once said, “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” What did he mean by this? The Holocaust was among the most horrific and disgraceful periods in our world history. Why would we want to remember it? The answer is simple: We must guard against I t ever happening again. To honor those whose lives were senselessly taken and for those who endured and survived the trauma, each of us has the responsibility to listen to and learn from those who can tell us what happened. I listened to Hana Gruna’s story, and what I heard made my heart hurt. No human being should ever have been treated the way Hana- or any of the other six millions Jews- were treated. The world failed her and so many others. By bearing witness, however, we have the chance to redeem ourselves. We owe it to Hana. Her story must be told.
As a young girl, Hana lived a normal life in a large, traditional Jewish family. What was once normal, however, soon turned into a nightmare from which Hana barely escaped. Her life forever changed when her mother and brother were taken and ultimately slaughtered by the Nazis, and she was deported to an overcrowded ghetto with 70,000 people who were living in unspeakable squalor. At that time, it was difficult for her to imagine life getting any worse, but it did. She was sent to Auschwitz,, a concentration camp that could only be described as hell on earth. The sky was always gay with the ashes of lives stolen by the Nazis; she could hardly tell whether it was day or night. The roaring fires and smoke coming from the camp’s chimneys were constant reminders of one’s fleeting and precarious existence. Hana’s threadbare clothes provided no warmth, only humiliation. She was treated worse than an animal. Beaten. Kicked. Starved. This young woman, who once flourished in safe and loving environment, was subjected to unimaginable treatment. When the war was over and Hana finally was liberated from the camp, she honestly did not know if she could adjust to being a part of civilization again; she had forgotten how it felt to be treated like a human being While I have never experienced a fraction of what Hana endured, her feelings of not being able to fit in resonate with me. I have often felt like I was on the outside looking in, that everyone else knew where they belonged, but I did not. If Hana could find her way, it makes me believe that I can, too.
The Nazis tried to break Hana, but they failed. Why did any of this have to happen to her? Why did millions of people have to die? More important, what was the world doing while these atrocities occurred? These are questions that may never be satisfactorily answered. What we know for sure is that the actions of Hitler, the Nazis, and their followers were the direct result of hatred, prejudice, and intolerance. And, at the root of all of these was ignorance, a complete and total lack of understanding and appreciation for the basic truth of human existence: we are all created equal. Hana was certainly not treated as an equal.
What, then, can we do to honor Hana’s story? As a society, we can remember; we can bear witness; we can speak up. More personally, Hana’s story inspires me and strengthens my resolve to pursue a career in diplomacy or journalism so that I may contribute to peace and ensure that stories of injustice and intolerance are heard by the world community. The world was silent during the first years f the Holocaust. I hope that I would have raised my voice then and now. Indifference should be feared almost as much as ignorance. The Holocaust is over, but the hatred, prejudice, and intolerance that fueled it is not. Today, the world continues to struggle with the fundamental principle that all men and women are created equal. Hana’s story makes me even more passionate about speaking up for those who have no voice. In the words of Matin Luther King, Jr., “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”