“Courage and Hope: The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Child” was the theme of the 2023 contest. Middle school students in grades 6-8 were invited to submit artwork, and high school students in grades 9-12 were invited to submit essays.

Cash prizes for the top winners were made possible by the Kaethe Mela Family Memorial Fund of the Jewish Foundation of Memphis. Kaethe, her husband, Paul, and their 17-year-old daughter, Doris, were murdered in Auschwitz.

Students were invited to consider how children use courage and hope during the horror. How did children survive in hiding and in camps? How were children affected by their loss of education and childhood? How did children resist? Could a child’s imagination take them to a beautiful place and away from the harsh reality of living through the Holocaust?

There were 52 art entries from 11 diverse schools including Bornblum Jewish Community School, Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville, Colonial Middle School, Hutchison School for Girls, Margolin Hebrew Academy, Memphis University School, Riverdale K-8 School, St. Agnes Academy, St. George’s Independent School, University of Memphis Middle School and White Station Middle School.

The art contest was judged by Carol Buchman, local artist and art teacher at Grace St. Lukes’ School, along with Iris Harkavy, local artist. Essays were judged by Rachel Shankman, former executive director, Facing History and Ourselves-Memphis Office and Dr. Dan Unowsky, department chair of history at the University of Memphis.

1st Place Art Winner, Kayla Lam, 7th grade, Colonial Middle School

My artwork demonstrates the hope, courage, and resilience of Anne Frank,

Elzbieta Strassburger, and Tova Friedman – three children who experienced the Holocaust. Even though their outcomes were different, they fought hard, persevered, and kept their spirits high during this time. Anne Frank, Elzbieta Strassburger, and Tova Friedman are holding items symbolizing something that gave them hope and comfort. Anne Frank held her diary, where she confided her feelings and thoughts that comforted her until the end. Elzbieta Strassburger holds her doll; this signifies the beginning of her hope and her reunion of her family. Tova Friedman is holding a picture of her mother – the one she trusted, listened to, and relied on to keep her safe and hidden to escape the concentration camps. Anne Frank is shaded in black and white to show her unfortunate death during the Holocaust. In contrast, Elzbieta and Tova are shaded using color to show their survival. There is barbed wire, broken bricks, and cobblestones in the background to show the brutal circumstances during the Holocaust and their captivity. The clouds symbolize the dark, terrifying days and the rainbow shows the hope and light that would come. The doves in the background symbolize hope, freedom, and peace. I tried to capture the hope, courage, resilience, and bravery some children maintained during the Holocaust, which was a violent and terrifying era.

2nd Place Art Winner, Lucy Underwood, 8th grade, Riverdale K-8 School

The purpose of my artwork is to show what kids had to go through during the heart wrenching times of the Holocaust. The Jewish children were torn apart from their families and were not able to receive the same luxuries and opportunities as other kids. The top right corner has a young Jewish girl who is looking into a different reality. The point of this feature was to show what many children had to create in their minds to push through the challenging realities they were living.

3rd Place Art Winner, Willem Dorros, 8th grade, Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville

When I was 11 years old, I saw a play put on by a high school in Chicago. It was about the children at the Terezin Camp in the Czech Republic. The play detailed the horrific things done during the holocaust, yet showed how the children were joyful and full of hope and love. I took home with me a book filled with poems from the children in Terezin: “I Never Saw Another Butterfly.” The book is full of drawings and writings from children, many who were younger than me and who were persecuted just for being alive. In April of 2019, I went to the Netherlands with my family and visited the location of the Vught concentration camp and walked through the memorials. While I was there, I heard the story of a woman who had to leave her special fur coat upon arrival at the camp. It was taken from her, and she wanted to know when she would be able to get her coat back. She never saw it again. I wanted to trim the edge of this painting with fur in honor of this woman because by coming back to share this story, in a small way, I can help to spread the reminder of her life. The butterfly represents hope, because in our worst moments, there is always something to look to and to help us keep on going. I chose to leave some of the edges of her clothing rough and imperfect to represent the harsh realities of life in the camps. Her tears represent all the sadness and suffering during this terrible time. The girl looks like my little sister, Emmanuelle, may look like a young teenager as she represents someone’s sister, child, granddaughter, and friend. She is looking up because she believes that someday there will be an end to all the evil.

Honorable Mentions

Lulu King-Wilson, 8th grade, University of Memphis Middle School

In my art I show a light shining down on silhouettes of four children. The dark raindrops are taking the children’s hope away. The grayscale in the background represents the light and happiness of the children’s lives being taken away as the dark rain passes through them. Then, at the bottom, the drops turn light because they are filled with the children’s hope. At the bottom, is the sentence, “Hope is all I have left.” This was said by Holocaust victim, Moshe Flinker at age sixteen.

Yaheli Zalman, 7th grade, Bornblum Jewish Day School

For my Holocaust painting I decided to depict the entrance to Auschwitz. The monochrome colors symbolize the emotion, the death, sadness, silents, and melancholy feelings. I decided to put children’s shoes, and suitcases in colors to symbolize the children’s lives, characters, gifts, and joy that was lost. In the sky there is a star, but it is the yellow badge that they were forced to wear from age six. I liked making this Holocaust painting because it made me realize a quote that I heard: “For the dead and the living, we must bear witness” by Elie Wiesel. This means, for the people who died in the Holocaust, and for the people who are alive today, we need to remember. On the bottom of my piece, I decided to quote from a diary of a teenager. These are words of hope to live through and to tell. 1.5 million children perished in the Holocaust and a project like this a way to remember them and honor them.

Keirstin Neal, 8th grade, University of Memphis Middle School

The theme for this project was Courage and Hope: The Holocaust Through the Eyes of a Child. I used butterflies to symbolize hope. In my art, children are reaching for the butterflies trying to find hope in their dire situation. Each butterfly has a message coming from it, “help me,” “save me,” “there’s hope.” The colors represent fire and children trying to get away from it. The biggest butterfly is coming from a candle burning that represents the light in the darkness and the children finding the courage to find hope.

First Place Essay

1st Place Holocaust Essay Contest Winner
Nadav Lowell, 11th grade, Cooper Yeshiva High School for Boys

According to the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 1,350,000 Jewish children were killed in the Holocaust, leaving only 150,000 surviving. Those that survived did not escape unscathed; many witnessed horrific deaths and horrible crimes. Children were forced to grow up fast and become self-reliant if they wanted to survive.
Most of the ways Jewish children survived were hazardous. Many children hid in bunkers, attics, or other hideaways, in constant fear of discovery. Some lived in the forest. Some children were sent to live with family and friends, and a lucky few were brought to England (via “Kindertransport”). A great many parents gave their children to the church, even knowing their children might be converted. Some parents encouraged children to hide their Jewish identity.
Given all of the above, I wonder what inner qualities and practices kept children alive, resilient, and even identified as Jewish, especially considering limited Jewish education. How did Jewish youth, after witnessing so many horrors and so much tragedy, stay true to their faith and their people?

To help me answer these questions, I turn to the writings of the Jewish youth, carefully collected and maintained by the Yad Vashem archives and others. For example, we have letters written by Hearshc Pollock, Chiya Marla, Jacob Marcus, and dozens more. Heartbreakingly, many of these were written not only to their own families but to neighboring Poles, community rabbis, and others, begging and pleading for interventions to save and protect their loved ones. These letters show me how these children-maintained hopes and dreams, and care for others, even while suffering and struggling themselves.

2nd Place Tied Holocaust Essay Winners

Phoebe Jo Fuerst, 8th grade Honors English, White Station Middle School

Lea Thomas, 12th grade, St. Mary’s Episcopal School