Winners of Chapman University’s Holocaust Writing Contest

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Winners of Chapman University’s Holocaust Writing Contest

Ben Malo, Staff Writer

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The Chapman University Holocaust Art and Writing Contest is a highly competitive contest that takes entries from high schools all over the world. Every high school is only allowed to submit three entries and Canyon has two finalist and the first winner in Canyon High School history. These are the tragedy-inspired poems and prose by finalist Sonia Singh and first-place-winner Abigail Stephens.

Abigail Stephens, who won first place for her poem titled “My Enemy, My Friend,” alongside a Holocaust survivor who was present at the event.

My Enemy, My Friend

By: Abigail Stephens

German soldiers turned stalagmites, legs frozen stiff
Rigid from waiting on the Russian front, like dominoes, begging to be knocked over
You were to carry those icicle soldiers down from the train, down the stairs
You were their pack mule, giving Nazi snowmen piggyback rides
Those men were cinder blocks on your body
Your rib-showing body, your fragile-as-a-house-of-cards body
Your months and months in the Kraków Ghetto body
And the soldiers were the ones needing immediate care?

The one you carried, the young SS man, the blonde-haired blue-eyed ice cube
He had said the most terrible thing to you, how clearly do you remember it?
How he didn’t spout slurs or ooze disgust, how he had no hostility
No, the most terrible thing he did that day was call you his friend

He looked at you, a slave to his people, and called you a friend
He was fighting a war for the right to exterminate your race and he called you a friend
Your blood boiled so sweltering, your skin began to burn
He suffered when you made his frozen legs hit the stairs, every single step down
Did he then realize that he could see true suffering if he had looked at the man who carried him?

….

But that’s not why you tell this story, is it?
You don’t want us to harm those who’ve treated us with hatred
No, you want us to know how you sobbed after you put him down
How you regretted every time he screamed in pain–because of you  
You had realized that if you hurt your enemy, you became just like him
Is that why you tell your story?

And today we ask that question, the same one that you’ve been asked a million times
How did you learn to love your neighbor, Mr Offen, when he wrung you out and left you to die?
Well, many years ago, you answered like this:
“Hate in itself is self destruction, it ties a noose around your neck”
And if I want to take action, if I’ve truly learned from you  
When faced with opposition, I will respond with poise and respect

Even though it may seem impossible, when so many are bound by their rage
I can accomplish more with an ounce of compassion than I can with an ocean of hate
Because if we continue to weaponize hatred and solve our conflicts with war
It’s like setting the world on fire and expecting ourselves not to burn

 

Never Forget
By: Sonia Singh

Memories. They are strange things. They can be wonderful or absolutely devastating. They can be something that everyone will remember or something everyone will want to forget. But memories are more than just things. They are people. They are events. They are the history of us.

The Holocaust was a calamity of fear and suffering and hate and cruelty and inhumanity. The mere thought of all of the innocent people having been tortured and killed sickens me. I knew that there was no way I could begin to understand the hell that the survivors went through. But I decided to try and I listened to what Mr. Nathan Offen had to say.
Mr. Offen explains to me the last time he ever saw his mother and younger sister. It was a morning in October 1942.  He was coming back to the ghetto in Kraków, Poland from his job of working at night. The Germans made Mr. Offen work with the Red Cross. He carried sick German soldiers on his back who were brought from the Russian front to a railroad track, so they could receive medical attention. Before he left his job, he and the other workers were searched. If a stolen item was found on them, they were shot on the spot. Coming into the ghetto, he saw police and so many dead bodies lying all over the street. He heard gunshots. Immediately, he went to the house he was living in to see if his family was alive. Nobody was there. Just corpses covering the backyard. He went outside to find his mother, but found many people being marched to an unknown destination. Among those people, he saw his mother and younger sister. His mother tried to signal him to run, to get away before he got caught. But Mr. Offen wanted to get close to her, for he could sense that it might be the last time he would ever see his beloved mom. He approached them, but before he could get too close, a guard took the butt of his gun to his face. Mr. Offen’s teeth were knocked out of his mouth and his sister watched, petrified, hanging onto their mother’s skirt. This was the last time he ever saw them.
After hearing this memory, I could only think of the devastation and pain he must have felt after witnessing such brutality to his family. This recollection was so clear that it brought Mr. Offen to tears. I was moved, and I cried for Mr. Offen and for his mother and sister. I realized why this memory was shared: so that the people of today can understand the reality of what happened during the Holocaust, and so the people whose lives were lost can be remembered. Millions upon millions of people’s lives were ruined or ended because of hate. Hate for who they were, and for what they believed in. The lives lost during the Holocaust did not deserve to be lost. The least we can do now is to remember them, because if their lives are forgotten, we are no better than the people who ended them.
The memory of the last time Mr. Offen saw his mother and sister is now a memory of my own. I will share Mr. Offen’s experience not only to educate people, but to keep the memory of his family alive. Mr. Offen’s experience inspires me to act kindly toward others and show respect to them. Not only that, but I will do my best to accept people’s differences and honor who they are as human beings. When this happens to people, they are free to be themselves and will more likely spread love instead of hate. This means that by me recognizing people for who they are, am making a small change in their lives.
The lives lost in the Holocaust must be remembered. By sharing the memories of those who are now gone, we can honor them by knowing the truth of what happened to them and by making sure that they will never be forgotten.

Congratulations to Sonia and Abigail. Keep up the good work!