Under the guidance of their English teacher, Robert Kobylarczyk, three enthusiastic students from Elementary School No. 1 in Tuszyn, Poland, have taken part in the 2021 Annual Holocaust Art & Writing Contest, “Sharing Strength and Sustaining Humanity,” organized by Chapman University and the 1939 Society in Orange, CA. For this 22nd edition of the contest, the organizers decided to draw inspiration from the global pandemic’s challenges.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our lives in ways we could never have imagined only a few months ago,” reads their brochure. “Our challenges are very different from those faced by people during the Holocaust, but we too are experiencing fear, separation, and, in some cases, the loss of people we love. We are realizing that we are strengthened through our connectedness to those around us. Technology enables many of us to stay connected, but we have also learned that a virtual connection is a poor substitute.”
Mr. Kobylarczyk has been a long advocate of the Karski legacy and has shared his enthusiasm for the Polish hero with his students for many years. They had already read the graphic novel Karski’s Mission: To Stop the Holocaust (a gift from the Jan Karski Educational Foundation’s sister organization in Warsaw) and had been inspired by the Polish emissary’s compassion, humanity, and integrity. Naturally, Karski and his legacy served as a starting point for students to venture on a creative journey. This time, they listened to Karski’s fascinating testimony recorded in the US for the USC Shoah Foundation in 1995.
“Each and every one of my students knows Jan Karski and his heroism, so when we heard that Chapman University and the 1939 Society were organizing such an important contest, we immediately and enthusiastically decided to participate,” said Mr. Kobylarczyk. “Maja Majewska, Mateusz Kozieł and Jakub Przybył have a flair for drawing, painting, and creating thought-provoking works. They all were moved to the marrow when Karski was talking about German atrocities in the Warsaw Ghetto."
Students' Artwork by (from the left) Maja Majewska, Mateusz Kozieł, and Jakub Przybył
"‘Mr. Kobylarczyk,’ they said, ‘we need to show we can make a real change and leave three drawings at our school so future generations and our younger students will remember and also listen to Karski’s gentle, wise, and such a sad voice.’ Even the Covid-19 pandemic wasn’t able to stop them from participating. Their artwork proves that the younger generation is ready to share strength and sustain humanity in a subtle but, at the same time, bold and creative way. My students were so moved by Jan Karski’s message and excited by an opportunity to create something important that they started to make their drawings right away. The drawings by three participating students depict how they imagined the Shoah tragedy, which also took place in Tuszyn and Karski’s hometown of Łódź, located nearby. Their drawings show people but no real faces or feelings – just figures or rather shadows. Students spoke straight from their hearts. For example, Maja’s drawing, which focused on the Jewish cemeteries that have miraculously survived, is particularly compelling. It was inspiring to see young people’s deep understanding of the issues and the ability to convey it in their artwork.”
Please see the students’ commentary on their artwork here: holocaust-art-writing-contest-students-commentary-on-artwork.pdf.
The contest brochure (excerpts): 2021-holocaust-art-writing-contest-brochure-excerpts.pdf