The Kleinman Holocaust Education Center (KHEC) has just launched its second annual Student Visual Arts and Literacy Contest, which provides middle- and high-school students with excerpts from diaries that give firsthand accounts of the Holocaust, and invites them to submit reactions to the readings through creative writing or producing visual art.

The diaries provide students with personal accounts of authors’ faith, strength, and courage during the Holocaust. The contest is designed to preserve the memory of the diarists, and to inspire readers to develop inner strength to meet life’s challenges.

“Our mission is to provide all people with a better and deeper understanding of the perspectives and experiences of religious Jews during the Holocaust, and this contest gives students invaluable artifacts from that period of time to do just that,” said Elly Kleinman, president and founder of the Kleinman Holocaust Education Center.

This year’s contest includes excerpts from three different Holocaust diaries, and the writings students read are grade-level specific. After students reflect upon the text, they can choose to write a letter to the diarist sharing their connections, observations, and questions, or create a poster promoting the book and encouraging others to read the full diary.

The contest is part of programming at the New York-based museum and education center, which is currently under construction at 1561 50th Street in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn, a neighborhood that is home to the largest religious survivor community outside the State of Israel. The center is currently located in temporary facilities at 5923 Strickland Avenue in Mill Basin.

The deadline for submissions is March 1, and winners will be announced on April 15. The grand prize for each grade level is $250. Second-place winners will receive $100, and third-place winners will receive $50. This year’s contest will offer a total of nine prizes.

Submissions for the contest come from schools across the country. Last year’s winners were high-school students in New Jersey and California.

“The hands-on experience students get from engaging in this kind of activity enriches their education and understanding of people who lived during the Holocaust,” said Julie Golding, director of education for the Kleinman Holocaust Education Center. “We very much look forward to seeing this year’s submissions.”

Students in grades 7—8 will read the diary of Rywka Lipszyc (pronounced Rivka Lipschitz), who was a 14-year-old Jewish girl, orphaned and living in the Lodz ghetto in Poland. The diary spans from October 1943 to April 1944; Rywka was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in August 1944, and a Red Army doctor reportedly discovered pages from the diary outside the Auschwitz crematorium during liberation in 1945. More than 50 years later, the doctor’s granddaughter brought the diary to be published.

Students in grades 9—10 will read the diary of Hillel Seidman, an archivist of the Warsaw kehillah (community), who was a researcher and author. His diary spans from July 1942 to April 1943, and provides a firsthand account of the Warsaw ghetto’s last days. The diary was impounded by the Gestapo and rescued at the war’s end from a cellar.

Students in grades 11—12 will read the diary of Chaim Yitzchok Wolgelernter, a Torah scholar, businessman, and young father of two children. It was written while he was in hiding from 1942 to 1944, and crafted as a memoir, with chapter titles and a table of contents. The author was killed just months before liberation, and the diary remained untouched in a drawer, unpublished until more than 70 years later.

The KHEC is the premier Holocaust institution in the world dedicated to telling the religious story of the Holocaust. It has the largest collection of artifacts and documents from the religious world, which will be made available for scholarly research and public access. The KHEC broke ground for its permanent home this past March; it is expected to open in late 2016 or early 2017. In addition, the KHEC is building annexes in Lakewood, NJ and Jerusalem, as well as developing permanent and traveling exhibits throughout Europe.

“We have already acquired a voluminous amount of artifacts and documents, and are continually working to build our collection so more initiatives such as this can be made possible,” said Rabbi Sholom Friedmann, director of the Kleinman Holocaust Education Center.

The contest is sponsored by Meridian Capital Group, LLC, and additional sponsors include the Jewish Press, Israel Bookshop Publications, and the ArtScroll Library.

To learn more about the Kleinman Holocaust Education Center visit www.kfhec.org or follow on Facebook at kleinmanfamilyHEC.

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