West Middlesex students' work recognized in Holocaust commemoration

May 18—WEST MIDDLESEX — As the Jews were persecuted across Europe during the Holocaust, non-Jews — now called the "Righteous Among the Nations" — risked their lives to help.

For their efforts to tell that story through two poems, an essay and a drawing, four students from the West Middlesex Jr.-Sr. High School were recognized by the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation.

The four students, enrolled in teacher Christen Jones' Honors English class, took multiple places in the 31st Annual Holocaust Writing, Art and Multimedia Contest.

"This year's theme was 'Righteous Among the Nations,' so all of the students had to incorporate that into their projects," Jones said.

Student Kaylee McCarty took second place for "Where Did the Righteous Go?" and student Ayzlin Jones took third place for "Looking Past the Label" in the poetry category.

Student Maggie Hoffman took third place for "Women of the Holocaust" in the essay category.

Student Ella Bartholomew took second in the art category for her drawing of two hands, one with a Star of David bracelet and another in shackles, reaching toward each other.

Since her Honors English course is a college-level class, Christen said she assigns an independent project — including a submission to the Holocaust Writing, Art and Multimedia contest — for the students to complete every nine weeks.

"I might give a few suggestions here and there, like try to have your rough draft in by this date, but otherwise I leave it up to the students," Christen said.

As they researched the Holocaust and the Righteous Among the Nations in particular, the students said they learned many things about the Holocaust.

Ayzlin said her essay focused on the Jewish women who were sent to special labor camps, despite the time's societal norms.

"Back then, women really weren't allowed to work and were expected to stay at home, and yet they had these special camps made just for Jewish women to work in," Ayzlin said.

McCarty, whose poem focused on those who helped the Jews, said she was surprised to learn that it wasn't just German Nazis who rounded up Jews.

"Usually wherever the Nazis were, they had local people that would help them, like in France or Hungary," McCarty said.

Hoffman's essay focused on women who helped the Jews and the Jewish mothers who continued raising their children throughout the Holocaust.

"We learned that the Nazis persecuted not just the Jews, but other groups of people too," Hoffman said.

Bartholomew said it was important for the students and others to apply the lessons learned from the Holocaust to the modern day to prevent another mass killing.

"We always ask how people could let something like the Holocaust happen, but then you see similar things happening in the world today," Bartholomew said.

The four West Middlesex students, along with the others who participated in the contest, were recognized during a ceremony held May 7 at the Mahoning County Courthouse.

The ceremony, hosted by the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation, featured the lighting of a menorah and guest speakers, including family members of Holocaust survivors.

"We got to hear from the people who had spoken with relatives that lived through the Holocaust first-hand," Ayzlin said.

The rest of West Middlesex Jr.-Sr. High School's students had a chance to learn about the Holocaust as well, when a traveling display made a stop Thursday at the high school.

The display, "Stars Without A Heaven," told the story of children during the Holocaust, including family life, playing and child labor through photographs and other information.

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