Our REMEMBER Program's Holocaust Creative Arts & Writing Competition received entries from middle and high school students from across the Greater Charleston area. This year's theme was "Resistance". The 2017 winners will received cash prizes thanks to the generous support of Homegrown Hospitality Group at a ceremony open to their teachers and families on April 26, 2017.
Thank you to Sandra Brett for her leadership of this important program and to all of the community members who judge the competition.
This is the essay by Gregg Middle School Student Austin Brown, who came in 3rd place in the Creative Writing category.
Human Spirit: The Strongest Weapon
By Austin Brown
The Holocaust has been remembered as one of the worst tragedies in modern times. This title is not easily given, as over 6 million Jews were exterminated horrifically during the period. A question, however, has been asked over the years; Why was there no resistance? Why did the minorities allow Nazi’s to take them and strip them of their pride (and their lives)? Well an answer to this is, the human spirit. The human spirit was the greatest weapon, and the greatest fault at the same time.
This question has a bit of a direct answer. There was resistance in many cases, as you might expect. So of course there was literal resistance. In Poland, there were many rebel groups, and even rebellions such as The Warsaw Uprising. However, to answer these questions, we must go deeper. The fight was not won solely on physical weapons and fighting. The fight was won with survival and perseverance.
Survival was not strictly scientific. Many relied on the belief they would be liberated as strength to carry on. Of course they needed food, water, shelter, but they also needed to stay mentally healthy. The Nazi’s knew this, and they specifically targeted any sort of hope the minorities might have. They knew the human spirit would provide them with strength when they were weak. The human spirit would allow them to fight, to prosper, and to survive. So, the Nazis would target what gave them hope and made them feel like people. When you strip a person down to nothing, the human spirit dwindles. No longer will it provide as well as it did before, but it will still be there.
Can you imagine being told to leave your home, and move into a ghetto where disease was rampant? Can you imagine being torn from your family as you board on a train to a specifically built death camp? Can you imagine being treated as below an animal, and feeling like one too? I surely can’t imagine this, however, those who endured the long genocide did. Somehow, even with these horrible conditions, the human spirit was strong. Not for everyone though....
The human spirit is our greatest ally, but our weakest link. If built up, our soul will help us, and help us prosper. If torn down, it will become our greatest weak spot. If you are being bullied, or assaulted, the human spirit may be your greatest power. The adrenaline pumps through, you block out every word, and you fight back. This surge of power helped people fight the Nazis, or it was used as a source of energy to survive. However, in another situation, if those words, and punches get to you, you will fail. Once the human spirit is broken, the human cannot fight back. Once we are stripped of who we are, all resistance ends. We think, “What does it matter? I don’t matter!”. A tormentors words are obviously less serious than a Nazi attack, but this example applies to every aspect of our life.
Soldiers can have the greatest weapons, armor, and advantages, and yet still lose the battle. This is because of the human spirit. If you go into a situation with a bad attitude, then you will surely lose. If you spent years building yourself up, then your spirit will overtake you. You will surely win (almost all of the time). Minorities did resist. The war was built on resistance. But the effectiveness of resistance did not depend on physical counterparts, but rather their mental state.
When Jewish prisoners were in concentration camps, they resisted. Their mere survival was resistance to the Anti-semitic beliefs of Hitler. Every time they woke up in the morning, they resisted. They survived on the fact that they knew they would be liberated. They woke up each day in hope, that today would be the day. The day where they can prosper, and return home with all their brothers and sisters. The day they can wake up and worship whoever they please. Where they can return home, and be people. All they wanted to be was people, and they were. They had lives before this. This dream of returning to their lives kept their spirit up, and was the weapon in which they used to revolt.
However, as camps were liberated, Jewish people realized their lives were not intact. Many people had their homes taken over, now rendering them homeless. The ideal of their perfect lives that allowed them to survive in camp, was now shattered. So, what do you do when you have nothing left? You have hope. You always have hope. So now, they must take their hope and their broken spirit, and make a new life. Many had lost their children, spouses, and more in the camps. For many, this had to be a fresh start. They had to forget their old lives, for it be to painful to cherish the memories. Their spirit was all they had, and they used it once again.
The Holocaust was the worst, inhuman genocide in all of modern history. The amount of ethnic groups that suffered were too many to count. There was fighting against the Nazis, but not on a large enough scale. However, there was still plenty of resistance. The mere existence of these groups were enough resistance towards the repressive regime. These groups had to survive the camps, but also had to survive life after. They returned with nothing but their broken spirit. They had to build new lives, and frankly new personalities. After seeing that many horrors, many would never be the same. We regard the holocaust as one of the greatest disasters in history. We guarantee nothing on this scale will never be done again. But let me remind you, the warning signs of the holocaust were there years before it happened. The world watched as an entire group of people were disposed of. We all ignored the warning signs. The seeds for the holocaust--and the war frankly--were planted long before Hitler took power. Today we have relative peace. But please don’t forget, the holocaust could have been avoided. We need to watch for the warning signs today. To truly live in a modern society, we need to watch for the warning signs of war. We need to resist, before another atrocity happens. The human spirit is our strongest weapon, unless we don’t use it in time.