First place essay
When character matters: Preventing genocide
It is often said that life is unfair. I always struggled to understand it. In retrospect, I realize the question is not whether life is unfair or not, but rather how will one face it when it is? Injustice has torn humankind apart and claimed countless lives since the world began. While I cannot manipulate the choices of others, I can make an impact with my own decisions. In my own life, the injustices I have witnessed, especially in this past year, have broken my heart. Yet, simply lamenting will not transform the cruelness of injustice – only action can bring change. During the Holocaust, thousands of Jewish lives were saved, due to action on the part of regular people. In each individual situation, the Righteous Among Nations used their gifts, skills, situations, and character traits to stand boldly against injustice. Today, I am inspired by the character traits openly displayed by Sofka Skipwith, Johanna Eck, Aristadies de Sousa Mendes, and Adelaide Hautval.
Sofka Skipwith, a Russian princess away from home, opened her heart to the Jewish people, displaying heartwarming kindness, devotion, and selflessness. When France fell to the Germans, Sofka was sent to a detention camp, where she heard devastating, first-hand accounts of horrible atrocities committed against Jews. Immediately, she worked to obtain counterfeit passports for Jews in the camp, which fascinates and truly inspires me. She voluntarily laid her royal reputation and status on the line for Jewish strangers, using her influence to help them, rather than looking away. Despite the consequences, she chose to do what was right. When my family first began to foster homeless orphans, who, too, faced injustice, I regretfully responded with selfishness and anger. Remembering Sofka Skipwith’s character in the face of injustice urges me to do the same, while sharing my blessings with those needing blessed.
Similarly, Johanna Eck exemplified unconditional devotion, selflessness, and loyalty when caring for Jewish teenagers during the war. Left a poor widow living in Berlin when her husband died, Johanna met Heinz Guttmann and Elfriede Guttmann under stressful circumstances. These unrelated teenagers had barely escaped deportation and desperately needed help. Voluntarily, Johanna burdened herself with their safety and provision, despite her own physical limitations. Johanna’s heart toward the teenagers strikes me as amazingly selfless, devoted, and loyal – she took full responsibility for them, and she kept her word to do so, even after the war. Furthermore, Johanna’s story painfully reminded me of times when I have failed to selflessly put others before myself, even considering the love I have been shown. Consequently, Johanna’s example of devotion, loyalty, and selflessness inspires me to learn from my imperfection and look to others’ interests even when it may be difficult.
As a diplomat from Portugal, Aristadies de Sousa Mendes showed immense courage, selflessness, and determination when assisting thousands of Jews. Aristadies was given direct instructions from his government against assisting Jews while he was in France. Yet not only did he issue thousands upon thousands of visas for Jews and Gentiles alike, but he also traveled to the border with Spain to permit refugees into the neutral country. Aristadies’ courage, selflessness, and determination are truly inspirational, especially since he knew the risks of becoming involved. Yet he forged ahead for the sake of innocent lives. Even when he was ordered home, he handed out visas to any refugee he could find. In my life, just the idea of sticking my neck out for others makes me nervous, therefore Aristadies’ story stands out. If a diplomat in a foreign country, under massive pressure, can be so courageous, determined, and selfless, so can I, as I actively participate within the community.
Her life the definition of strength, courage, and persistence, Adelaide Hautval stood her ground under tremendous pressure. From the start, Adelaide, a psychiatrist in France, openly resisted German authority, leading to her arrest. While in multiple detention camps and later two concentration camps, Adelaide used her skills to treat and hide sick Jewish women, ultimately saving them from death. When forced to help with human experimentation, she persistently defied the German doctors, declaring her friendship with the Jews freely. Out of all the Righteous Among the Nations ladies’ stories, Adelaide best displays strength and courage – put into an ominous, harmful situation, she would not allow fear to control her decisions. Just as I respect Adelaide for her actions and character, I also relate to her situation – in the past, I have been put into unfamiliar, uncomfortable, pressured circumstances, whether onstage or when participating in new activities. Adelaide’s story inspires me to be courageous, strong, and persistent in those situations, regardless of fear and anxiety.
In reading their stories, I am continually astonished by the way Sofka, Johanna, Aristadies, and Adelaide used their difficult circumstances to help those in need. Instead of sitting on the sidelines, they became heroes by standing up for what was right and bringing change to vulnerable Jews experiencing injustice. From their lives are many traits and qualities to be taken and used as an example for the way others should be treated. While I am imperfect, I will always remember the Righteous Among the Nations and do my best to walk in their footsteps in all areas of my life. In my own home, I can care for foster children with the compassion I feel for them, recognizing their lives know injustice. Using my talent for writing, I can write about the injustices done to children, women, families, and communities all around the world – in the foster care system, concentration camps, jobs, homes, rough neighborhoods, refugee camps … The world is full of injustice, unfairness, and inequality. Nonetheless, standing by will do nothing for those who severely need help. The Righteous Among the Nations set the example – they are our heroes. Now, in our day and age, let us follow, shining light in the dark, bringing hope to the hopeless.
Lydiah Young is a student of teacher Victoria Singleton’s eighth-grade class at TEC at Bryant in Spokane.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.