First place: ‘Hold onto the Light’
Written by Natalie Williams, seventh-grader at TEC at Bryant
On January 1st, 1906, a baby was born into a Protestant family living in France. She was the last of seven children. Although her family didn’t know it yet – there was no way they could have known – Adelaide Hautval would do beautiful things with her life. She would become a physician and use this talent to save many in a place where they were taken to die. She would defy any who supported the corrupt beliefs that some people were “lesser” than others, and grasp what little light there was left. When darkness hung over the whole world, Adelaide Hautval would hold on to love, hope, and compassion, thus helping to ignite the fire that would drive away that darkness.
When Adelaide was about thirty-six, she heard that her mother had passed away. Wanting to be present at the funeral, Adelaide requested a pass so that she could cross the demarcation line in France. She was denied but tried to cross nevertheless. For this, Adelaide was arrested and taken to the Bourges train station to have her identity investigated. As she stood on the platform at the station, she witnessed the harassment of a Jewish family and protested their treatment. One of the Germans turned to her and asked, “Don’t you see that they are only Jews?” (Levin). Adelaide stood firm and replied, “So what? They are people like the others, leave them alone.” (Levin). This brave opposition to the Germans finalized the decision to send Adelaide to the Bourges prison.
While in prison, Adelaide was told she could go free if she only denied what she had said at the station. “But how can I say something else?” (Levin). Adelaide persisted. “Jews are like other people.” (Levin). The answer to this was that since she continued to defend the Jews, she would share their fate. After this confrontation, Adelaide noticed the Stars of David worn by the Jewish prisoners. In an open show of defiance, Adelaide took a piece of yellow paper and proceeded to pin it to her clothes. The paper read, “Friend of the Jews.” She was later sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau prison camp, where she was housed with five hundred other women. At the camp, Adelaide used her skill in the medical field to treat the prisoners who had developed typhus. She kept the fact that they were sick concealed in order to protect them from immediate death. Eventually she was sent to Block 10, where German doctors conducted “medical experiments” on the prisoners without anesthesia. Adelaide would not go into the operating rooms or help the surgeons, even at the risk of her own life. She was eventually transferred to the Ravensbruck camp, and she continued to protect and heal the sick until the camp was liberated and she was set free.
Adelaide Hautval inspires me because she was a normal person who worked in small ways, but still made a big difference. She aided the suffering prisoners simply by being kind and doing what was right. This helps me to recognize that even if I’m just a regular person, I can still affect the lives of those around me. She reminds me to show love to everyone I meet, because no matter how different they may seem, they remain people and deserve to be treated that way. Another motivating thing she did was that she wasn’t afraid to say what she thought or to share her opinions with others. Many may have disagreed with Hitler and the Nazis, but what set Adelaide apart was that she spoke up. Thousands didn’t. It can be hard for me to share my thoughts or feeling on a topic, but Adelaide did it because it was right, and she did it without fear. That inspires me to share what I think and to not be afraid of doing it. Her actions also help me to remember that my opinions matter and that they can have an influence on others.
Something else I admire about Adelaide Hautval is that she not only expressed her beliefs, she did it proudly. The way that she plainly demonstrated her point of view on the manner in which Jewish people were being treated, and her decision about the way she would treat them – as a friend – moved me. Doing the right thing can be hard, but she not only did the right thing, she delighted in doing it and didn’t care what others thought. These actions inspire me to take pride in doing what I know to be right, and also to be proud of being myself. Sometimes it can be hard for me to stay true to myself, because that means I’ll have to be different than everyone else. But Adelaide was different, and she didn’t care. She was happy about it. She inspires me to be proud of being different, when it’s easy and when it’s hard. Adelaide inspires me to be myself, to be gracious, understanding, and resilient, and when everything seems dark, to hold onto the light of kindness.
Second place: “Irena Sendler”
Written by Katie Confer, eighth-grader at Odyssey-Libby Center:
The Holocaust. One of the most awful events in human history. It revealed some of the worst aspects of humankind, like racism, fear, hatred, and prejudice. But even in the darkest of times, there were heroes, beacons of light who rescued Jews and other victims of the Nazis. One such hero was Irena Sendlerowa, more commonly known as Irena Sendler. Irena saved many children from the Warsaw Ghetto and worked closely with Jewish resistance groups to help Polish Jews.
Irena Sendler was born in Otwock, Poland, in 1910. In 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, she was working at the Warsaw Social Welfare department as a social worker. After the Nazis forced the Jews into the Warsaw Ghetto, Irena joined Żegota, the Council for Aid to Jews, to help the people trapped in the ghetto. She was not Jewish, but she saw the suffering of the Jews and dedicated herself to helping them at great personal risk.
Irena used her position to obtain a permit to ‘inspect sanitary conditions’ in the ghetto, while really bringing supplies to the people inside. After seeing the conditions in the ghetto, she decided to smuggle the children out. Working with a few others, Irena devised clever methods to sneak children out, such as being buried in goods or taken out in sacks. She gave the children new identities and placed them with caretakers, often members of religious organizations. Irena carefully recorded the identities of the children she had smuggled out as to eventually reunite them with their families. She rescued approximately 2,500 children.
Irena knew what would happen if she was caught. She saw what the Nazis were doing to the Jews, and she knew it was wrong. She helped the children, the innocent, those who could not understand what was happening to their families and their community. Irena’s strength and courage were incredible, and she saved so many children from the starvation, disease, and death in the hellish Warsaw ghetto.
On October 20, 1943, the Nazis became aware of Irena’s actions and she was imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo. Irena did not betray any information. She was sentenced to death, but Żegota bribed a guard and she narrowly escaped.
After the war, Irena worked to reunite the rescued children with their relatives, even though many family members had died in death camps or concentration camps. She was recognized as Righteous Among Nations in 1965. Irena was not Jewish. She could have been a bystander to the Nazis regime of hate and cruelty, and therefore kept herself safe. Irena took it upon herself to help the Jews in need and show them compassion in a time of suffering and oppression.
I am not Jewish, nor do I practice any other religion. I am white, from a middle-class family, and I have not faced much oppression. However, I see the hatred in the news, I hear about it from people in my life. I am sick of it. I believe that humanity should stand together, protect each other, and recognize that regardless of race, religion, nationality, gender, and sexuality, we are all human beings. Irena’s heroism during the Holocaust inspires me to be an advocate for equality and justice, in whatever way I can.
Irena said in an interview, “I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality. The term ‘hero’ irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little.” What is amazing to me is that Irena did not consider herself a hero. She thought she did what anyone else would have done, but Irena was one of the only ones to stand up to the Nazi cruelty. This remarkable woman’s actions are the reason 2,500 Jewish children survived. To me, Irena Sendler is a true hero of the Holocaust, who has inspired me to stand up for what is right.
Third place: “Stand Through the Storm”
Written by Sofia Hessler, seventh-grader at TEC at Bryant
No, I would not speak. They could rain torture upon me for ten-thousand days and still I would not speak. Run children. Hide. Do whatever you must do to remain safe. These thoughts looped endlessly through my mind. Flashing before my eyes, the glimmering faces of all those precious children kept my mouth clamped shut. “Nielsen!” the commandant jerked my chin up and I met his glare defiantly. “We know,” he growled. I remained silent. “It is no secret that you have been involved with the illegal transportation of Jews from Denmark to Sweden (remember.org).” My gaze did not waver. “Do not even think of denying it,” the commandant paused, “Because we have proof (remember.org).” Fear boiled up inside of me, but I would not speak. Dripping with a disgusting, shriveled kind of pleasure, the commandant spoke again, “We know, for example, that you saved the lives of dozens of Jewish children (remember.org).” In what twisted world is that act a crime? The thought circulated in my mind, but I didn’t dare speak it aloud. “What are the children’s names?” the commandant asked, a low threat rumbling behind his voice. No, I would not speak. “Ellen Nielsen!” the commandant shouted. My name echoed across the walls of the small room for several moments. There I was, perhaps walking straight into my own death trap, but I did not regret what I had done. If I had been given the chance to do it over again, I would have done exactly the same thing. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.
Ellen Nielsen’s husband died in 1941. Ellen, who lived in a town near Copenhagen, became a single parent of six children. In order to pay for her family, she became a fishmonger, buying fish from the local fishermen and selling them to people on the docks. There were many other vendors on the docks besides Ellen. Two Jewish brothers, who sold flowers, became good friends with her and one day told her of the rising violence towards Jews. This news shocked Nielsen, especially when they explained that Germans had begun arresting and torturing Danish Jews. Later, the brothers revealed that they were Jews themselves, which was new information to Ellen, and asked Mrs. Nielsen if she would find a fisherman who could take them to Sweden, where they could escape the Nazis. Ellen agreed; but she didn’t stop there. She allowed the brothers to hide in her house while the arrangements were being made.
News of Ellen’s actions spread, until eventually the Danish underground heard the story and began contacting Ellen through the fishermen, asking for her assistance in sending their children to safety in Sweden. Ellen accepted and offered to hide these new Jews in her house until they could be safely transported out of the country. At one point, Ellen was hiding over thirty Jewish refugees in her home at the same time. Because Ellen did not refuse these requests, and therefore put her life at stake, she helped over 100 refugees escape to Sweden. Ellen carried out this dangerous work during the time between October 1943 and December 1944.
Unfortunately, Ellen was arrested by the Gestapo in December 1944. She was in the Vestre prison for three months, where she was questioned by the Gestapo, but refused to give them answers. Then she was sent to the Froslev Concentration Camp. Later, she was moved to Ravensbruck in Germany. It was there that she was summoned by the camp commandant and questioned once again. The commandant gave her a task, one that he claimed was similar to the services she had performed before: transporting Jewish Children. Ellen was forced to carry Jewish infants to gas chambers where they were killed. Then Mrs. Nielsen had to carry their dead bodies to the crematorium where they would be burned. Finally, Ellen could take it no more. She refused to carry out her task any longer. So, Ellen was condemned to death and found herself in the line to the gas chambers three times. The first two times she was able to save herself by bribing the guards. The third time she was alerted that she had been saved; a decision had been made that all surviving Danish concentration camp prisoners were to be shipped to Sweden for confinement. Then Denmark was freed from the attack of the Germans and Ellen was released. She returned to Denmark and died there on November 26, 1967.
Ellen Nielsen inspires me because she was already struggling; her husband had died and she was forced to provide for six children alone, yet she did not turn down the chance to help someone in need. Then, not only did Ellen go above and beyond to offer the two brothers a place to hide while she arranged their trip to safety, but she offered the same service to other Jews in need. After helping the Jewish brothers Ellen could have simply turned back to the life she had been juggling before, but no; a problem had been exposed to Mrs. Nielsen and she did not ignore it. Instead she took action, even in a time of such peril, and risked her life in doing so. Ellen shows the bravery of a true superhero. She may not have worn a cape or mask, but she put herself in danger to help others. Then when she was captured and questioned by the Gestapo, she stayed strong and protected the people she had saved, a hero until the very end. I will look up to Ellen and follow her example in my life by not becoming wrapped up and sucked into my own struggles; by opening up and acknowledging other people. They may be struggling as well. Finally, I am inspired to not get caught on the thought that an ordinary person can’t do great things, because it isn’t true. You don’t need a cape to be a hero.
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.