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Students challenge people today to see attitudes that led to Holocaust

Annabel Christianson-Buck, Sophie Carter, Caleb Marll, Arihana Roos, Jesse Scholtz and Rosie Zhou

Excerpts from the first, second and third place middle and high school winners of the Eva Lassman Memorial Writing Contest are shared here. Their prompt was: “Based on what you learn from resources provided and others, choose one country that failed to come to the aid of the millions of Jews in the Holocaust.  Identify and discuss the social, economic and political forces existing in the country at the time that contributed to its inaction.  How could that country have responded differently in order to change the course of history?” To read the full essays, visit


An Open Letter to America: You see, America, you and I are one and the same. I am part of you, and you are part of me. Yet, you have seen far more than I have. …

Oh America, how I wish you and I could go back and change the course of history. Unfortunately, we cannot. What is most important is that we must not forget what has happened. If we forget, history will repeat itself. In order to grow out of our mistakes, we must learn from them and strive to make the world a better place. To do this, we must take action.

In the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Courage must take precedence over fear. We can help victims of injustice. We can be a voice against genocide. We can fight human trafficking. We can end racism and sexism. But, we must speak out.

The power belongs to the individual. That is how legislation is moved. So I ask you, America, are you a nation who hides beneath the Stars and Stripes in hopes that you will not be forced to act? Or, are you a people who stand proudly waving your flag, supporting and helping the oppressed? We are a strong nation with a mighty voice. Most importantly, we are a free people. We must remember that while others’ freedom is dependent on ours, the value of our freedom is dependent upon theirs.

Caleb Marll - sophomore
Mt. Spokane High School
First place - high school


“(The refugees) were welcomed nowhere and could be assimilated nowhere. Once they had left their homeland they remained homeless, once they had left their state they remained stateless; once they had been deprived of their human rights they were rightless, the scum of the earth,” said Hannah Arendt, a Jewish-American political theorist, [who escaped Germany during the Holocaust and became] an American citizen in 1950. …

The United States could have helped many more refugees from Europe, but it chose not to because of the negative general public and government attitudes. … If Americans had been more open to immigration and set their fears aside, we could have saved many more people from the atrocities happening in Nazi Germany.

After the Holocaust, many Americans felt that they should have helped more, but that was hindsight, and the Holocaust was already over. Eleven million people had already been killed.

Today, history seems to be repeating itself in America. Recent immigration policies have sent thousands of refugees back to where they tried to leave from. Many people’s attitudes toward immigration are very similar to those during the Holocaust.

Have we learned too little from history? If we see people in need of sanctuary, we must help them and give them refuge. It is our responsibility to help our fellow human beings in need, no matter their religion, gender or ethnicity—for the sake of humanity.

Rosie Zhou - eighth-grader
Chase Middle School
First place - middle school


If the United States had pushed any of these solutions [increasing the immigrant quota, streamlining the refugee process, setting economic sanctions, bombing concentration camps, reporting more in newspapers], it is possible that many more people could have been saved.

We learned from the Holocaust, what people can do to each other. We found that there are people that follow orders without question; that ordinary people can do terrible things.  We also learned that people are also capable of doing good things too. Inaction is what is the enemy of us all. Genocides have occurred since the Holocaust: Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur, and Cambodia. We must not be silent.

Jesse Scholz - sixth-grader
North Pines Middle School
Second place - middle school


Three generations of my family have walked beneath gates reading “Arbeit Macht Frei,” each consciously grateful they were not among those imprisoned in the camps, and each heartbroken for those that were. I have seen the grounds on which their valuables were taken away, the buildings in which they were subjected to torture, and the crematories in which their bodies were burned.

I see the disrespectful acts of those who do not understand the immensity of the atrocities that occurred there. As Americans, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards, and many other nationalities of visitors to those camps, we cannot understand the magnitude of the affront to human rights—to humanity itself—that occurred on the land beneath our feet....but we can sympathize. Often, however, our human aptitude for sympathy fails us, replaced by apathy, in the midst of politics and war.

....Too often, nationalism and utilitarianism cloud our ability to see beyond our own circumstances.  We fail to see those who are unlike us as our equals, and to see the common good as our personal responsibility. Propaganda dehumanizes those who do not look, speak or pray like us, and it manipulates the minds of Americans in the same manner that it manipulated our enemies throughout World War II. Just like our human family in Europe and Asia, we are similarly susceptible to mistreating others in the name of our god, our politics, or our perceived superiority.

This discrimination has been a recurring motif throughout American history, and we have been committing these crimes of prejudice since the Second World War and long before it.

As [Martin Luther King Jr. said,] “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” so it is therefore our personal responsibility to consistently uphold the values that we claim to respect. In remembrance of our collective history, we cannot allow ignorance...or inaction.

Sophie Carter - senior
Lewis and Clark High School
Second place - high school


The Holocaust was a horrible time of anti-Semitism. It was the genocide of Jews, gypsies, the disabled, communists, Jehovah’s witnesses and homosexuals. This all happened because of the National Socialist German workers party, later known as the Nazi’s….Countries all over the world were asked for help against the Nazi’s, but most refused, including Cuba and the U.S….

The facts of history could have been changed if countries like Cuba decided to help the immigrants and Jews….

Cuba could have shown people that anti-Semitism was wrong. If people believed that they needed to help, then that belief would continue to spread, and more countries would be led to help. If one country decided to help, many countries may have admitted Jewish people based on their political, social or economic reasons. No one knows what would have happened if more countries [had helped], but it is sure that the world would have been better because of it.

Arihana Roos - eight-grader
North Pines Middle School
Third place - middle school


“America the Beautiful, America the Complicit”:

Desmond Tutu once said, “if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” The U.S. knew about the atrocities being committed in World War II, and still did nothing. America is complicit in the deaths of all those we turned away.

When the St. Louis brought us Germany’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we turned away, dooming so many souls on that ship. But why? Are we not a nation created by immigrants fleeing persecution? The cold, hard truth of the matter is that the United States let six million people die because of institutionalized anti-Semitism, which impacted the economic crisis and isolationist policy within the government….

The United States, to its credit, did have some organizations working to smuggle refugees out of Germany and into safety....That work would have been unnecessary had our immigration policy not been racist and exclusionary.

Following the Holocaust, we said “never again.” It happened again. In Cambodia, in Bangladesh, In Rwanda, Bosnia, the Sudan, the Congo, in Syria. Time and time again we turn our backs on those in need, time and time again we make excuses. The best way to honor those we failed in the Holocaust is to accept as many refugees as we can. “Never again” is now.

Annabel Christianson-Buck - senior
Gonzaga Preparatory School
Third place - high school

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