Students win statewide accolades
Middle grade teacher Shannon Cotter Marsella announced that two of her seventh grade students have won awards for poems about the Holocaust. Maya Veldman Wilson placed first and Mac Brown third in the competition, “The Holocaust through the Eyes of a Child.”
Marsella explained that her curriculum required students compare a work of fiction with one of non-fiction, and she had decided upon two books on the Holocaust.
In 2013, the Holocaust Education and Resource Center selected the theme and sponsored an art and writing contest with two divisions—one for middle schoolers and one for high school students. The island students chose to write poetry in which each imagines her or himself a child living through the Holocaust.
Maya and Mac attended the awards ceremony at the Jewish Community Center in Providence on May 18. Mac said, “The room was packed with students, teachers and parents.” Clearly moved by what they had learned about a very difficult period in history, the two seemed very pleased to have been recognized for their poetry in which they imagined themselves victims of the Holocaust.
Maya wrote a poem entitled “A Child in a Surreal Reality.” (Due to the length of the two poems, we were unable to print them in their entirety.)
Maya’s poem begins:
The trees softly, happily drop their leaves
The leaves perform their happy, twirling dance to join the piles
The leaves on the bottom die away
The leaves on top are new and young
Slowly, a lethal fire is spreading through the fields where the leaves live
I watch this, and can only think about it like the Holocaust
For I was a child in that living nightmare
We were like innocent leaves
The fire, like prejudice, slowly ravaged the fields
Just a few leaves spared
Even those few survivors were singed
The poem concludes:
The leaves did a dance as they drifted among other leaves
Just as the wind carried leaves from place to place
I went from camp to camp
Wishing that the wind could carry me gently away…
Mac’s poem is called “Through My Eyes,” and in it he imagines himself an inmate of a concentration camp in which he loses his family, his freedom and eventually his life. It begins:
The pain in my feet
Walking with the crowd
Of captured Jews and Homosexuals.
I knew that my path to freedom
Had a roadblock then.
One man decided another man’s fate.
If he pointed to the left, hard labor.
If he pointed right, it was like a guillotine struck your life
And it got cut short.
My mother, sister, father and I,
We came to the hands,
Those dangerous, fearful hands
That would decide my family’s fate.
That one man,
He pointed to us, and then pointed left.
We were spared.
Sadly, he didn't spare my mother.
He pointed to my mother,
And then right.
Thrust among the dead and dying, which include his sister and father, the speaker continues,
“I knew where I was: Hell.
I knew life couldn’t be this terrible
Our lord had not helped us recover.
All I wanted was to be able to pray
In the name of my lord,
I asked him,’Why?
What insanity are we coming to that humans are doing this?
In the end the speaker, too, dies, but with a prayer in his heart:
Let’s aim for a brighter future
Where men and women and children
Are not discriminated against for religion
Or skin color, or ancestry
Please, for a better future for children
Let there not be
A second Holocaust.