Students reflect in award-winning essays, projects

In her award-winning high school essay, Emily Salko asks others to imagine the freedoms that Mira Kimmelman lost as Nazi Germany intensified its persecution of Jews during the Holocaust.

Julie Kinder McMillan, far left, Robertsville Middle School teacher, presents the first-place middle school project award certificates in the “Learning from the Holocaust” Contest to a team from RMS.  They are, from left, Aiden Cantu, Nathanael Peters, Lennox Pack, and Kyleigh Langdale.  The students are Oak Ridge High School freshmen.

“The freedom that we possess is something that we all take for granted each day,” she wrote. “Ask yourself, are you allowed to attend school? Walk the streets of your town? Ride a bus? Live in your own house? Answering ‘yes’ means that you already have 10 times the freedom that Mira Kimmelman had, and this little freedom is what sparked her appreciation of the things such as the clothes on her back, her shoes, and even her own roof.”

Emily, a sophomore at Oak Ridge High School, is one of the 14 students who won awards in the first Mira Kimmelman “Learning from the Holocaust” Contest in 2021. Kimmelman told her story of surviving the Holocaust to students, civic and religious groups in East Tennessee for more than 50 years before her death in 2019.

Julie Kinder-McMillan, left, and Sandra Burnette, right, both Robertsville Middle School teachers, present Burnette's former student Alia Oakes, center, with her second-place award certificate as a team member in the middle school project “Learning from the Holocaust” Contest.  Alia is now a student at Oak Ridge High School.

Her sons, Benno and Gene Kimmelman, created the essay and project contest for Tennessee high school and middle school students, sponsored by the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, to carry on her legacy and ensure that her voice continues to be heard through her books and recorded talks . The contest offers prize money ranging from $150 to $750.

Emily watched videos of Kimmelman’s speeches and read articles about her and about anti-Semitism before writing her essay while she was in the ninth grade. She noticed that Kimmelman, as a teen, chose to take family photos, rather than other possessions, when her family was forced to leave home for a ghetto.

“She was so brave to continue moving forward and just fighting to stay alive for her family,” Emily said of Kimmelman after she received the first place high school essay award. She wrote the essay when the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining attention in the news, and she realized that people facing discrimination need to have strength and resilience.

This poster and poem are part of the first-place project by a Robertsville Middle School team in the “Learning from the Holocaust” Contest.  The broken glass in the poster represents Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass when Nazis targeted synagogues.  Kyleigh Langdale created the poster, and Lennox Pack wrote the poem.  Other team members are Aiden Cantu and Nathanael Peters.
Julie Kinder-McMillan, left, Robertsville Middle School teacher and Tennessee Holocaust Commission Teacher Fellow, congratulates Emily Salko, Oak Ridge High School student and first place high school essay contest winner in the 2021 Mira Kimmelman “Learning from the Holocaust” Contest.

“I think her biggest message I would continue to use is just kindness toward everyone. You shouldn’t judge people based on who they are as a group, based on race or religion. You should get to know someone,” Emily said. “You should not treat them differently because you might look different or believe in something different.”

Along with the mantra of “never forget” often heard in relation to the Holocaust, Benno and Gene hope students entering the contest learn their mother’s lessons of tolerance and kindness. The essays reflect that, as the students wrote about being moved by her bravery and resilience and about how they are applying her lessons today.

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