Honoring Holocaust-inspired art by students

Posted: June 04, 2013

In penning a song about the Holocaust, Eliza Azzarano, Alexandra Silvestri, Alna Hofmeyr, and Julianne Puckette couldn't draw from experience.

But the eighth graders at Radnor Middle School found a connection in a Jewish girl who - though generations removed - wasn't far from their age: Anne Frank.

"We kind of were inspired by how she was locked up for so long," Azzarano said, "and how she wanted to be free."

With Radnor eighth grader Ben Webster, the girls wrote "The Last Butterfly," a song with music composed by Hofmeyr that imagines the experience of the last Holocaust survivor.

The five - along with their teacher, Amy McNally - were honored Monday night during an awards ceremony for the annual Mordechai Anielewicz Creative Arts Competition, held by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

More than 70 works of Holocaust-inspired student art were recognized during the event at the Moore College of Art and Design, which is hosting, through June 13, visual artwork created by students.

The competition - which this year drew more than 400 entries, ranging from paintings to poetry to musical compositions - encourages students to learn about the Holocaust through the arts and to "turn it into something they made," said Maureen Pelta, a professor of art history at Moore, whose father, a Holocaust survivor who has since died, started the competition.

The goal is for students to learn acceptance, but also to speak out against injustice, said Beth Razin, manager of Holocaust and Israel Programs for the Jewish Community Relations Council.

The Holocaust "was perpetrated on the population by the government," Razin said. "The democratic institutions in Germany failed.

"You can't take that for granted," she said. "Being silent perpetuates problems in society."

That theme was apparent in a number of the works on display Monday night. One large canvas, centered on a skeletal figure surrounded by eyes, included a poem: "Sinning by silence / It's not smart / It's not brave / Just cowardly."

On another piece, a student wrote: "Whoever saves one life saves the world entire."

Many of the works were inspired by broad themes, but some were personal. Aviva Mann, a senior at Lower Merion High School, created a video by blending an interview with her grandmother about her escape from Nazi-occupied Greece with photos, maps, and drawings Mann made to tell her grandmother's story.

"There are so many stories," she said, "and this is just one."

While the Holocaust "is a piece of history, and maybe we don't think about it every day," Mann said, "it definitely is still relevant."

Contact Maddie Hanna

at 856-779-3232 or mhanna@phillynews.com, or

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