“The Holocaust is a lesson in human (and inhuman) history that took place because of hate, bigotry, indifference—all characteristics that know no bounds. These traits spread like wildfire. If we remain indifferent to human suffering, it can happen again; it can happen here, and who knows who the next victims will be? Only by remembering the bitter lesson of Hitler’s legacy can we hope it will never be repeated. Teach it, tell it, read it.”—Mira Ryczke Kimmelman, “Echoes from the Holocaust”
Mira Kimmelman challenged students to reflect upon the history of the Holocaust and contemporary examples of injustice as she gave talks about her own experiences for more than 50 years, according to Larry Leibowitz, Knoxville attorney who is chair of the Tennessee Holocaust Commission.
The Mira Kimmelman “Learning from the Holocaust” Contest, established after her death in 2019, continues her legacy, a press release said. The contest invites Tennessee high school and middle school students to submit essays and projects that reflect how the lessons of the Holocaust are relevant to current events and their own lives.
Kimmelman’s sons, Benno and Gene Kimmelman, proposed the contest in hopes that students could continue to learn from her, and the Tennessee Holocaust Commission sponsored the first contest last year. Entry forms and instructions for the 2022 contest may be found at https://tnholcom.org/kimmelman-contest/. The deadline for entry is June 1, 2022.
High school students are asked to submit a four-to-six page essay based on a prompt from Kimmelman’s book, the press release said. Middle school students may enter either a two-to-three page essay or a project that reflects on the lessons of the Holocaust, for example, a visual art project, a website, a table-top exhibit, or a performance with accompanying script. The middle school essay should analyze and reflect on Mira Kimmelman’s story and message.
The Tennessee Holocaust Commission contest website links to 18 talks and interviews that Kimmelman gave between 1984 and 2017. It lists her two books, “Echoes from the Holocaust” and “Life beyond the Holocaust: Memories and Realities,” giving students resources for the essays and projects.
Julie Kinder-McMillan, English language arts teacher at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge and a teacher fellow with the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, introduces her eighth-grade students to the Holocaust and encouraged her current students and former students now at Oak Ridge High School to enter the contest, the press release said. “She hopes other teachers will direct their students to the opportunity to enter this year’s contest,” the release said.
“Students today have so many different things competing for attention. If teachers have any discretion on what to put in front of students, bringing in Holocaust literature is a great choice,” said Kinder-McMillan, who has taught Holocaust studies in her classroom for 25 years. “It helps them learn not only about history, but also about the world, empathy, human behavior.”
Mira Kimmelman’s book is among Holocaust memoirs she brings into the classroom. Kinder-McMillan also invited Benno and Gene Kimmelman to meet virtually with her school’s eighth grade last May, the press release said.
“It was exciting to see the kids get so interested. They wanted to know more about what it was like to be raised by people who had gone through such a traumatic experience,” Kinder-McMillan said. “It is encouraging that Benno and Gene Kimmelman, second-generation survivors, are stepping in to carry that legacy forward.”
From her memoir, students learn that Mira Ryczke had a happy childhood near what is now Gdansk, Poland, until the Nazi German government forced her family to leave their home and live in a ghetto. Sent to a concentration camp in 1943, she was moved to Auschwitz, a death camp she described as “absolute evil,” escaping the gas chambers when selected for slave labor. As World War II neared its end, she was among those in the death march to Bergen-Belsen, where thousands were dying from starvation, disease, and exposure in the early months of 1945. British troops liberated that camp in April 1945.
The next year, she met another survivor, Max Kimmelman. Only her father survived the Holocaust. Her mother, brother, and 18 other members of her family were among the six million victims of the Holocaust. Mira and Max married and immigrated to the United States, living first in Cincinnati, Ohio, and then in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, from 1964 until her death in 2019.
“When you think about the Holocaust, it is obviously one of the most egregious examples of man’s inhumanity to man in modern history. I think it has never been more important than today to teach so that people don’t forget the past. We educate people about how that transpired so we don’t let it happen again,” said Kinder-McMillan, who invited Kimmelman to share her story with students at Robertsville in 2010.
The contest’s project option allowed her students who entered to not only learn more about the subject material, but also to practice skills including technology, working with a team, and formal presentations, much like the project-based learning taking place in classrooms today, she said.
The “Learning from the Holocaust” contest offers monetary awards: $750 for the high school essay winner, $500 for the second place, and $250 for the third place; $500 for the middle school essay winner and for the project winner, with $300 for second place in each category and $150 for third place.
The essay contest will be judged by a committee, including Kimmelman family members, according to rubrics outlined on the contest web site.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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