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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane Community Observance of the Holocaust holding annual writing contest; KSPS to help produce video of local survivors

By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

The 15th annual Eva Lassman Memorial Writing Contest will continue as planned this year, but the art contest and in-person community observance of the Holocaust that usually goes with it have been canceled due to the pandemic.

The event organizers, the Spokane Community Observance of the Holocaust, has partnered with KSPS to produce an educational video that features local Holocaust survivors instead of hosting an in-person community observance. Event co-chair Hershel Zellman said doing the video will also help preserve the stories of survivors.

“We want to capture the stories of the remaining Holocaust survivors before they pass,” he said.

One local survivor is 100 years old, another is 97, Zellman said. Cora Der Koorkanian, a child survivor, died in November at the age of 86. Zellman said she was a major figure in the local Jewish community and had served on the Holocaust community observance committee for several years.

“It was a big loss when she suddenly passed away,” he said. “They’re all leaving us.”

The writing contest is named in honor of Eva Lassman, a Holocaust survivor who lived in Spokane for many years before she died in 2011 at the age of 91. She often spoke at local schools and community events about her experiences in the Majdanek death camp.

During the Holocaust the Nazis killed 6 million Jews as well as millions of others they considered unsuitable, including homosexuals, the disabled and Romani.

The writing contest is held each year to encourage local high school and middle school students to learn about the Holocaust and write about what they’ve learned. This year’s theme is “When Character Matters: Preventing Genocide.”

Students should study the biographies of non-Jews who saved Jews from being tortured or killed during World War II and then identify the character traits that makes them inspirational. Students should then discuss their own character traits that might enable them to confront injustices they witness.

As more and more Holocaust survivors die, it’s important to pass on the lessons learned to the next generation, Zellman said. “We’re trying to imprint on their minds that when evil is allowed to flourish, terrible things can happen,” he said.

Zellman said it’s his hope that learning about the Holocaust will help students learn how to treat each other, how to respond to hate and how to keep genocide from happening again.

“Our position is, it all starts here in our hometown.”

The one good thing about the pandemic forcing the cancellation of the in-person Holocaust observance for the second year in a row is that it allowed organizers to extend the essay contest deadline by two months, Zellman said.

Essays should be up to 1,000 words long and emailed to by May 2. Students should include a cover page that includes their name, phone number, email address, school name, grade and teacher’s name. The winners will be announced by June 7.

Scholarships will be awarded to the top three finishers in each of the two divisions. The first place winners will have their essay published in The Spokesman-Review.

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Nina Culver can be reached at