Thurston middle schooler wins 25th annual Holocaust Art & Writing Contest

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Thurston Middle School student Izzie Tran recently won first place in the 25th Annual Holocaust Art & Writing Contest, an event co-sponsored by the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University and The 1939 Society, an Organization of Holocaust Survivors, Descendants and Friends.

Izzie Tran (far left) stands with two LBUSD contest participants and English Language Arts teacher Laura Silver (far right). Photo/LBUSD

Tran’s winning entry was entitled “Mourning Silence,” a response to the testimony of Kurt Messerschmidt, who described the aftermath of Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night” or the “Night of Broken Glass”) when some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps.

This year’s theme, “Answering the Call of Memory: Choosing to Act,” encouraged participants to select and watch a full-length testimony of a Holocaust survivor or rescuer from specified sources, including the Chapman University Holocaust Art & Writing Contest and the USC Shoah Foundation. The students pinpointed a compelling memory from the testimony, noting the specific word, phrase, or sentence that inspired them to act in memory of the Holocaust. This inspiration was then explored creatively through art, poetry, prose, or film, embodying the participant’s response to the call of memory.

Izzie Tran reads her winning piece onstage at the awards ceremony on March 15. Photo/LBUSD

“I love reading these submissions and always look forward to guiding students through the process. They often surprise themselves with their ability to empathize with individuals who lived through unimaginable atrocities nearly a century ago,” said Thurston Middle School English teacher Laura Silver. “Their enthusiasm for sharing these testimonies with each other, marveling at the resilience of those who endured, is heartwarming and inspiring. I appreciate LBUSD for allowing us to include the study of the Holocaust in the 8th-grade ELA curriculum. This unit is all about creating empathetic citizens, which is one aspect of our district’s learner profile. That’s what I get to witness: students who show compassion and kindness and a desire to speak out against injustice.”

Now in its 25th year, the annual gathering attracts participants not just from across the United States but also from various corners of the globe, including students from over 250 middle schools and high schools. Although the writing topics change each year, the primary goal remains constant: offering students the opportunity to connect with the testimony of a Holocaust survivor and to experience being a witness to history.

“As the principal of Thurston Middle School, I am deeply privileged to engage daily with students who, like Izzie Tran, are passionate about making a positive impact in the world. Izzie truly embodies the spirit of our students: young, yet incredibly motivated to effect change,” Joe Vidal said. “Her achievement is a testament to the values we cherish and the hopeful future our students are building.”

Tran was recognized at an award ceremony on March 15 at Chapman University’s Memorial Hall. The event, attended by approximately 700 students, parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders, and Holocaust survivors, celebrated outstanding student achievements in prose, poetry, art and film, as well as the dedication of their teachers. First-place student winners in the United States, their parents or guardians, and teachers will be invited to participate in an expense-paid study trip on June 24-28 to visit the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, the Japanese American National Museum, and other sites in Los Angeles, as well as to meet with members of The 1939 Society. Read Tran’s winning entry or learn more about the Annual Holocaust Art & Writing Contest.

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