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Spokane's Yom Hashoah art contest winners named


Najhana Smith - Najhana's stained glass is titled "Faded" - 1st Place High School

Photos are courtesy of Spokane's Yom Hashoah Committee

For the 2022 Yom Hashoah art and essay contests, middle and high school students prepared entries on the theme, "Why Holocaust Education?"

In April, the Committee for the Spokane Community Observance of the Holocaust chose the art contest winners. Their pieces will be on display during May in the Liberty Park Public Library at 402 S. Pittsburg.

Students were asked to read history, view videos and gather survivors' stories to learn about the Holocaust from 1933 to 1945, when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party cultivated fear and hatred of "non-Aryans" to rally the German people to war. 

The goal of Nazis was to rid the world of people they considered inferior or a threat—Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, Communists, homosexuals, people with disabilities and particularly Jews. They exterminated 11 million people, including 6 million Jews—two-thirds of Europe's and one-third of the world's Jewish population, said the contest prompt. 

Study of the Holocaust provides an opportunity to learn how hatred and intolerance can progress to genocide. The contest raised awareness in area schools.

Along with their art pieces, students wrote comments on lessons they learned about the Holocaust.

First place winners were Najahna Smith, senior at On Track Academy, and Hayden Brewer, seventh grader at the Virtual Academy.

Second place winners were Anna Francesca Quintero-Castenada, sophomore at University High School, and Teagan Schroeder, eighth grader at Salk Middle School.

Third place winners were Ethan Smith, senior at University High School, and Zariya Alexander, eighth grader at Salk Middle School.

Honorable mention awards went to Garrett Collins and Yaretzy Juarez-Rodrigues, eighth graders at Salk Middle School; Fauge Bedow and Stephanie Thornton, juniors at East Valley High School, and Rachel Barney, senior at Central Valley High School.

The Fig Tree is covering details on the first, second and third place winners.

Erin Bangle, art teacher at On Track Academy, said in her 20 years of teaching, Najhana's stained glass window is one of her favorites.

While Najhana was working on it, she started talking with a classmate about "why we have to keep studying about the Holocaust," Erin said.

The classmate knew little about it, so Najhana, who Erin said is usually quiet, told what she was learning.

"The two worked on their stained-glass panels, discussing the Holocaust and why we must never forget it," she said.

In her comments, Najhana, who named her piece "Faded," said Holocaust education is important because, as time goes by, people forget the horrible acts that happened.

She hears false comparisons today, such as, "I don't want to clean my room. This is like Nazi Germany!" Some people liken mandating immunizations or masks to Nazi Germany. Some want to ban books, but say they oppose Nazism, Najhana said, concerned that many people today don't know what Nazism is, while survivors who can give first-hand testimony are dying and won't be here much longer.

Her piece grew from the meaning of "Birkenau" in the name of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

"Birkenau is German for birch grove. Some believe they planted the fast-growing birch trees to hide the camp," she said, explaining that "when people see birch trees, they see beauty, strength, hope and peace, opposites of what the Nazis hid behind the trees. The birch trees in my piece begin as bright and colorful and fade to clear.

"At the left side of my piece, the textures in the clear glass tell the story as people's memories and knowledge of what happened behind those trees are fading," Najhana said. "The smokestack fades from memory behind the trees and the hint of the wire on the walls trail through. We must study the Holocaust, so no one forgets and repeats the mistakes."

Hayden Brewer - Hayden named her piece "I'm Still Here" after 2013 film

Describing her first-place piece, Hayden said she focused on children during the Holocaust and the theme, "I'm Still Here," from a 2013 documentary telling of the Holocaust through diaries of Jewish teens.

In the middle section with cracks in the background is a child's hand raised in a closed fist and the message, "I'm Still Here."

On the lower left is an almost empty cupboard with one slice of bread, the amount of food people in concentration camps were allowed in a day.

The lower right depicts the hands of a child and parent being separated, as many children were torn from families and never saw them again.

The top left has a Nazi flag with cracks in it, "signifying the corrupt minds of the Nazis," Hayden said.

The top right shows a Star of David patch Jews had to wear so people could identify they were Jews.

It also shows an arm with numbers, 62034. Concentration camps tattooed numbers on arms of those imprisoned. The "620" in the number comes from Arik Cohen, a Holocaust speaker at Hayden's school, who told students that 6/20 was the day his grandparents were married, the day they reunited after the war and the date his father was born.

In the piece, Hayden used the theme of cracks to say that the Holocaust was filled with horrible moments that made people's lives crack, and in some cases fall apart.

For her piece, "I Am With You," Anna Francesca looked at historical photos of children and young people in concentration camps, then painted their distraught faces behind barbed wire.

"I imagined that it could have been me," she said, telling of feeling both horror and empathy, and then feeling solidarity to prevent it from ever happening again.

She wanted viewers to share her experience of being beside "the innocent child prisoners" so they could be moved to empathy for the victims and stand in solidarity against violence and hate."

In "Never Again," Teagan said, "the Holocaust is a horrific stain on humanity and if we do not teach it in school, younger generations may not learn from the mistakes of the past. We must never forget the many victims and survivors of the Holocaust."

Her piece has names of victims and survivors on a wall of bricks and includes drawings of "brave people who were in the Holocaust." She wonders "how so many people could do such horrible things."


Ethan also wondered why people didn't stop Nazis when they dehumanized people, and why they turned a blind eye. He called his piece "Blind to Humanity."

"When I hear that some people want to prevent children from learning about history, it feels the same as turning a blind eye. It is wrong," he said.

He made his piece to show "how bad it was and can get, how people should be aware of everything around them and call it out when something they know is wrong is happening."

Ethan urges people never to turn a blind eye to evil—whether it's near or far. To show both the inhumanity and the complicity of ignoring it, he depicts a Nazi soldier facing away from a mother who is losing her child. He shows a mirror representing the mother's world shattering as she loses her baby and the collapse of humanity that began for Jews with Kristallnacht—losing everything and everyone they loved. A second theme is families and children forcibly separated before being sent to incinerators or shot.

Ethan wants people to see the sad, sickening truth of what happened and to learn from the past, so they do not repeat it.

"Actively learning history keeps people from turning a blind eye and collects us together to stand against it happening again," he said.

"Stand Together as One" is the name of Zariya's piece, which shows 10 hands of different skin tones. Hanging from each wrist is a bracelet with a symbol of a different religion.

"The hands in unity form a heart embracing the world. The background symbolizes hatred fading into hope and unity," she said. "We need to continue fighting for one another and standing up for each other despite our differences.

"As long as the world keeps spinning and as long as people continue to have a voice, the Holocaust should be remembered to prevent hatred and devastation from repeating," Zariya said. "Humanity is evolving so we have no excuse that our actions can't evolve with us."

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, May, 2022