Talented APS Students Travel to Washington

Holocaust Commemoration Contest
Posted on 05/18/2018
Image of Holocaust Contest Winners(as reported by Brian Lisik, Akron.com/West Side Leader)

At the entrance to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C., visitors are greeted with the words “guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw.”

Even before winners of the City of Akron’s 30th annual Holocaust Arts and Writing Contest saw that inscription during an April 24 visit to the museum, each had a much deeper understanding of them, having participated in the contest.

“For me, it was the image of living under the same smoke, with no escape and crying but no one is there to help,” said Firestone Community Learning Center junior Maria Manuel, whose watercolor collage and pencil piece titled, “We Are All Living Under the Same Smoke,” took first place in the Division II Visual Art category.

“It was just so heartbreaking,” Manuel said. “There were 6 million Jews killed and many of them just babies.”

The theme of this year’s Holocaust Arts and Writing Awards was “Lessons in the Holocaust: The Lives of the Children,” taking the experience far beyond the simple creation of an art or writing piece. First-place winners were awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the Holocaust Museum and other historical sites.

In the synopsis accompanying her submission, Manuel, who emigrated with her family from her native Philippines three years ago, said her work was inspired by a particular image of a group of boys in a concentration camp posing for a photograph.

“The boy in the middle of the group seems unsure, while the boy to his left appears pensive and afraid,” Manuel wrote. “The boy to the right is crying hysterically.”

Further inspired by the writings of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, the piece is a jarringly unsettling juxtaposition of ashen gray pencil for the faces of the children and bold watercolor flames engulfing the group.

Her art instructor, Patrick Dougherty, said Manuel has keen instincts when using mixed media to create mood.

“She has a real ability to integrate these [different mediums] and she is really good with color,” he said. “It’s amazing what she can do.”

Still, Manuel said her award was quite unexpected.

“I was excited and really surprised,” she said. “It motivates me to do more.”

Other Firestone Division II Visual Art winners included: 10th-grader Maya Miller, third; 10th-grader Maliyah Clark and senior Kayleigh Anthony, tied for fourth; and honorable mention winners 10th-graders Ashley Strub, Brooklynn Andrick, Chance Marks and Hannah Versluys.

St. Vincent-St. Mary (STVM) High School had several students place in Division II, including Writing category first-place winner senior Olivia Janolo for her piece, “Enlightened By His Eyes.” Other Writing winners included: senior Jared Musci, second; senior Gabriella Hagey, fourth; and honorable mention winners seniors Holly Haines and Caroline Pier. STVM Visual Art winners included: 11th-grader Nina Wolf, second place; and honorable mention winners 10th-graders Natalie Isaacs and Isabelle Davis.

“Writing has always been my outlet; I’ve always done additional writing outside the [classroom] prompt,” said Janolo, who is also a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines. “I believe it really helps with critical thinking. But this one was the most difficult. I was sitting in class staring at the screen for the first few days.”

Also inspired by Wiesel’s book “Night,” which chronicles his time with his father in Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944 and 1945, Janolo’s piece eventually began to take form.

Written in first person and recounting the life of a Jewish girl before, during and after the Holocaust, Janolo said the approach not only gave the essay a more personal voice, but put her — and the reader — directly into the story.

“The contest did become an afterthought,” she said. “Obviously, I had to make sure it was historically accurate, but when it becomes personal, you forget it’s an essay.”

According to Janolo’s instructor, STVM Advanced Placement English teacher Caitlin Bradley, this is precisely the point of the contest and her class. As a high school teacher in a Catholic school, Bradley said, she tries to ensure that lessons of compassion and equality share equal time with rote instruction.

“One thing we wanted to teach with the Holocaust is all the untapped potential that was lost,” she said of this year’s contest theme. “These were students at a major turning point in their lives — college, career — and they were stripped of that opportunity.”

At the April 10 awards ceremony, Holocaust survivor Barbara Turkeltaub spoke about her experience of being smuggled out of her native Lithuania by her mother and eventually being moved to a Catholic convent for safety. Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said child survivor stories such as Turkeltaub’s play a central role in understanding the significance of the Holocaust.

Janolo said she “pushed” herself several times throughout the writing of her essay, in particular when expressing Jewish families’ moments of lost faith.

“It was tragic and heartbreaking to think that all of someone’s family members are gone, so even if you survive, what’s the point?” she said. “Hearing about that from survivors gave me chills. As teenagers today, something minor happens and it’s the end of the world.”

Both Bradley and Dougherty agreed that more real-world curriculum is needed in today’s classrooms.

“They do such a great job and there are so many parallels in today’s world, the whole ‘America first’ stuff,” Dougherty said of the Holocaust Museum visit portion of the contest. “I would like to be able to take my whole class.”

Other first-place winners included seventh-grader Briel Sojourner, of Miller South School for the Visual and Performing arts, Division I Visual Art; and seventh-grader Martha Chestnut, of The Lippman School, Division I Writing.

For a complete list of winners, go to www2.akronohio.gov/Holocaust.

Image of Holocaust Contest Winners
Shown from left are first-place winners in the Visual Art category of Akron’s Holocaust Arts and Writing Contest: Firestone Community Learning Center junior Maria Manuel (Division II) and Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts seventh-grader Briel Sojourner (Division I).
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