Over 400 people – students, Holocaust survivors, community members, teachers, principals – joined Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz in remembering the Holocaust, at a ceremony on Sunday honoring the winners of the Assemblyman’s Holocaust Memorial Essay, Poetry, Performance and Art Contest. The morning’s program explored music during the Holocaust.
“It is surprising to many that music played a part in the Holocaust. It had both a positive and negative presence. Jewish partisans in the forests of Byelourussia formed a musical troupe to soothe their souls while hiding from Nazi patrols, but the Nazis also forced Jews in extermination camps to form orchestras to play as fellow prisoners were marched to and from forced labor assignments. The orchestras even had to play tangos as accompaniment to executions and punishments,” Cymbrowitz explained.
Edward R. Murrow High School’s Madrigal Chorus, Chamber Orchestra and Chamber Winds, composer Cecelia Margules, soloists Anita Tendler and Lily Ashira Shoretz provided music for the program.
“I didn’t want to just remember those who perished in the Holocaust, as important as that is. I wanted to do more. This ceremony, like the contest, is dedicated to the children. As we honor the memory of the 1.5 million young victims of the Holocaust, we must work to protect the children of today. It is important that we use the horrors of the Holocaust to teach students about the dangers of hatred. My contest was designed to do just that by requiring students to study the Holocaust and then express their feelings using their personal talents,” Cymbrowitz explained.
Winning artwork greeted ceremony attendees as they entered the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center. The three dimensional works vividly conveyed the horrors of the Nazi era with detailed depictions of concentration camp life. Musical performances were interspersed with speakers and a candlelight ceremony, to provide the audience with insight into the role music played during the horrific Holocaust period.
“It was obvious from the quality of the written entries and artwork submitted from local public and parochial schools and yeshivas, that the young entrants understood what occurred during the Holocaust,” Cymbrowitz stated. “I was amazed at how well they were able to communicate their messages to others.”
Included in the exhibit area was a collection of paintings, on loan from The Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives, painted by Holocaust survivor Seymour Kaftan, depicting the atrocities that the Jews of Vilnius, Lithuania endured during the Holocaust.
Assemblyman Cymbrowitz told the students that, “Perpetuating the lessons that are to be learned from the Holocaust, as you have done by participating in this contest, is more important than ever because as we approach the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, there are fewer survivors to provide firsthand evidence of the atrocities.”
Featured speaker, Helen Hoffman, author of Branded for Life, a member of the Museum of Jewish Heritage Speakers’ Bureau, a U.N. Guest Speaker, and baby born in a displaced persons’ camp after the Holocaust said, “My birth was considered a miracle. The numbers that were tattooed on my mother’s arm, 57240, add up to 18 which in Jewish tradition represents “Chai” or life. The Nazis sought to eliminate the entire Jewish population, my birth to two displaced persons who miraculously survived the Holocaust, was seen as a statement to the world that the Nazis had not succeeded, a new Jewish life was created.”
The audience was also moved by a video produced by Manhattan Beach resident and daughter of Holocaust survivors, Cecelia Margules, “Rainbow in the Night.” It vividly portrayed what life was like for the millions who were forced to live through the Holocaust.
Over 600 students entered the contest, representing diverse religions and nationalities. The essays, poems, performances and artwork were judged on three levels – elementary, middle and high school. Every student entering the contest will receive an Assembly
Certificate of Merit. The winning entries were awarded cash prizes, the students also received Holocaust books and the schools of the first place winners will receive computers.
The winning entries came from the following schools: (First Place) PS 195, PS/IS 238, Edward R. Murrow HS; (Second Place) tie: PS 206 & St. Mark School, tie: Bay Academy & PS/IS 225, tie: Leon M. Goldstein HS & Midwood HS; (Third Place) Yeshiva of Flatbush, PS/IS 209, Brooklyn Amity School.
Assemblyman Cymbrowitz, who is a second generation Holocaust survivor, has sponsored the Holocaust Memorial Essay, Poetry, Performance and Art Contest annually for the past twelve years. He explained the purpose of conducting a large ceremony, “Today’s event is not just to honor some very talented young people, it is designed to provide them, and perhaps even their parents, with a learning experience; the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of what happened during that horrible period of history almost 70 years ago.”
The Holocaust Memorial Essay, Poetry, Performance and Art Contest is sponsored in conjunction with the Manhattan Beach Jewish Center, the Lena Cymbrowitz Foundation and the Holocaust Memorial Committee.