14th Annual Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the 14th Annual Israel Arbeiter Holocaust Essay contest. The contest is a tribute to Israel “Izzy” Arbeiter, a Holocaust survivor and lifelong rights activist who lost several family members in the Holocaust. We received over 200 entries from all over MA, reflecting upon and bearing witness to testimony from both survivors and liberators. We challenge our youth to accept the responsibilities of telling the story as the next generation, bearing witness and using these lessons to guide them to their responsibility to make a change in our world toward prejudice reduction. Click here to watch the video tribute. 3RD PLACE, LOWER DIVISION
Riley Swenson, 8th grade
St. Agatha School, Milton
Barbara Smith, Teacher 2ND PLACE, LOWER DIVISION
Grace Ann Connolly, 8th grade
St. Agatha School, Milton
Alanna Edstrom, Teacher
Quinn Farmer, 7th grade
Shady Hill School, Cambridge
Greg Landgon, Teacher 3RD PLACE, UPPER DIVISION
Victoria Veksler, 12th grade
Marblehead High School
Debbie Coltin, Advisor 2ND PLACE, UPPER DIVISION
Dina Zeldin, 12th grade
Newton South High School
Jennifer Bement, Teacher 1ST PLACE, UPPER DIVISION
Livia Goldschmitt, 9th grade
German International School of Boston
Sabrina Blair, Teacher
Essay Below:

The Complexity of the Liberation

Have you ever felt someone else’s pain? When someone gets hurt, is sad or upset, of course I feel bad for them. But have you ever felt  personally affected by thinking about the hardships of others? That truly hit me while reading “Night” by Elie Wiesel. I felt that agony, guilt and sting from my eyes tearing up. And the question that still tortures me: How is this hate possible? This aggressive hot hatred. That is the scariest thing to me.

The definition of liberation is “the act of setting someone free from imprisonment, slavery, or oppression; release.”  Liberation is considered a sudden relief. The imprisonment and oppression are over, and one is free. In 1986, Martin S., who was twelve years old when the camps were liberated, gave an interview about the moment the Americans rolled in and it became apparent that the camp would be liberated. He stated: “When (the American soldiers) finally came in and you saw the jeeps roll in, you saw the different uniforms, you realized it’s over. Tremendous, tremendous high. As a matter of fact, I don’t even remember being hungry!”. The experience of jubilation was a lot more common among the ones who could share those moments with their loved ones, a joy sadly only a small number of prisoners were able to have. Although there are many amazing stories about the sudden exhilaration of the liberation, it is easy to think that once the concentration camps were liberated everything could go back to normal. In addition to the physical and mental abuse that had to be endured by long serving prisoners, there was understandably a desire for revenge. While reading statements given at the time, I could feel anger that was harder to find in later given statements. Liberated prisoners were seeking out to get revenge for all the lost loved ones, friends and of course the lost time, and rightfully so

While studying abroad in France I attended a French public middle school. There was a segment where in many different classes, we started learning about the Holocaust. When the Nazis were mentioned, everyone looked at the German girl in class. That girl is me. Although I live in Boston, I grew up in Frankfurt, Germany until I was 8 years old. I went to school there and all my family is spread out from Bayern to Berlin. Having the attention drawn to me while discussing heavy topics like that was hard. I always felt  embarrassed and ashamed, as though I was being blamed. Knowing my classmates thought of me at the mention of Nazis caused me to have many internal conflicts. I felt guilty. Even though I’d never had a connection to a Nazi, I felt as though I held a part of the responsibly. Attending a German school back home in Boston, we started learning about the Holocaust and the role Germany played in it very early. But in a class filled with German children everyone was very careful to differentiate clearly between the Nazis and the Germans. In France those lines were less clear. While speaking about the actions of the Nazis, they would refer to them as Germans. In our book, I would have to read the lines when the Nazis were speaking, since sometimes a German word would come up. I would question so much. How could the country I grew up in have such a dark history? Sometimes, I even got upset. I despise Nazis and every one of their actions. Why should someone like me be blamed simply for being German, that’s not fair. But in the end, the suffering of the people during the Holocaust wasn’t fair either.

Reading what he had written, it felt  as though it was a movie playing in my head. I had to watch all those people suffer, those children and infants being burnt alive. And I had to sit there and watch it happen, feeling completely helpless.

At my school we started a partnership with the Jewish Community Day School. We came together several times over the months and worked on different projects. I remember being nervous the first time we met. Not because of us having different religions and beliefs, but because when we compare the histories of our cultures, the Germans were the ones who killed, and I am German. But we have to confront our history to understand it ourselves and to be able to learn from it. As the younger generations following the Holocaust, we have to learn our world’s history, so we can tell the next generation about it. The first hand survivors are understandingly getting less as time goes on, so now it is up to us to initiate positive action. Let’s keep the stories alive by retelling them. We have to take in as much knowledge as we can. If there is a memorial for the Holocaust, look for the sign explaining it, like the New England Holocaust Memorial bear Faneuil Hall. Those structures were made with so much thought it is important to acknowledge them. We have to inform ourselves. Engage in the conversations and share any knowledge you might have. We should not let our shame get in the way of speaking up. It has to become normal to open up difficult conversations like these. That way we make the way easier for others who might have something to tell. I learned that although I have cultural connections to the Nazis, I am not responsible for what they did. But we do all have the responsibility to not let the lessons of our history be forgotten.