Huffington Post | June 7, 2017 | By Amy Pleasant, Contributor, Seattle Visual Artist and Writer

Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity’s Writing/Art/Film Contest

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Artwork by Allyssa KallstromWhat American would have imagined, just a few years ago, that a sharp rise in hate crimes and racist rhetoric would become so commonplace as the undercurrent of racism in America has risen to the surface in the current political landscape. Targeted groups, including American Jews, have been singled out in a resurgence of an “us vs. them” mentality. According to the Anti-Defamation League antisemitic incidents rose 86% in the past year. ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblat released a statement in April 2016, “There’s been a significant, sustained increase in anti-Semitic activity since the start of 2016 and what’s most concerning is the fact that the numbers have accelerated over the past five months.” Anyone familiar with the events leading up to the Holocaust cannot help but pause and reflect. This growing nationalism and intolerance among certain segments of the population in the United States has sharpened the focus of many humanitarian and civil rights based organizations. In this divisive climate the rise of antisemitism has served as a clarion call for the holocaust centers and museums around the country. The echo of history serves as a supplication to the world to enact change so that everyone is respected regardless of color, creed, gender or sexuality.

 

The intent of Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity is not only to act as a witness to the past, but to provide a means of engagement in a wider cause that promotes humanitarian values. In the words of director, Dee Simon, “Our Center teaches over 40,000 students a year to speak up for those who can not speak for themselves and to defend democracy by honoring all people.“ Like many other Jewish founded institutions, the Holocaust Center’s mission has become particularly relevant at this time in America. From its inception in 1989, it was understood that the key to holding the intent of “Never again” requires engaging the community at large and perhaps more importantly educating young people. The museum not only features historical information and artifacts of the Holocaust from local survivors, but loans “teaching trunks” full of curriculum and class sets of books free of charge to all teachers in the state of Washington. Speakers with first hand experience of the Holocaust are also available to classrooms and the on-site library and website are full of valuable resources. These important tools provide an important historical context in which to encourage tolerance and combat racism in today’s world.

 

A yearly Art/Film/Writing contest is an important part of this effort to engage young people and help them to make connections between the present and the past. The theme chosen this year was an especially relevant quote by Elie Wiesel, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

According to Ilana Cone Kennedy, Director of Education, “The topic this year was particularly timely considering our presidential election. (The topic was selected prior to the election.) Students were eager to express themselves and to consider ways in which each individual has opportunities to stand up for what they believe - sometimes in quiet ways and sometimes in loud and bold actions.” Kennedy believes that the relevance of the topic helped propel the participation among students. This year there were a record-breaking 912 entries from students of many backgrounds and nationalities representing 73 schools within Washington State.

 

This contest not only supports the mission of the Holocaust Center, but has had a significant impact on several of the participants. A former writing winner, Mohammed, was invited to speak and share his family’s own story of fleeing his home country at the Holocaust Center’s annual luncheon. Individuals in attendance offered him mentorships and he was able to secure a scholarship to Seattle University. He is currently continuing his education at Stanford. Aava, one of the first place writing winners donated her prize money to a humanitarian organization which supports the education of girls and recent graduate, Penny Rhines, a two time visual art winner is currently working on a novel about the Holocaust. She also served as one of the judges of this year’s art entries.

 

The Holocaust Center considers the Writing, Art and Film Contest to be one of the highlights of the year. In Kennedy’s words, “It is incredible to see the work that students are doing and how they are relating the difficult lessons of the Holocaust to their own lives and to the world today.” Perhaps its best said by 8th grader, Sarah Mercedes, in a statement attached to an art piece: “Many people feel silenced by society. It can be because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexuality. But protest is one of the ways to be heard, to peel away what silences us. When we stand together and speak the truth we will become leaders, shining light in the darkness.” If these students’ strong voices are any indication, it is heartening that the future of our democracy will be in good hands.

 

Winning writing and films, artwork and statements can be found here.

Tahae Sugita (right), a Japanese-American soldier with the 522nd Field Artillery battalion, stands next to a concentration camp survivor he has just liberated on a death march from Dachau. (Courtesy USHMM/Eric Saul)The Times of Israel | May 29, 2017 | By Rich Tenorio 

Troops who rescued death march survivors honored on 75th anniversary of WWII order that forced Japanese-Americans into camps.

Events across the United States, including in Seattle, are honoring the the Japanese-Americans of the 522nd who rescued Jewish survivors of a Dachau subcamp and death marches.

 

[Excerpt Below. Read Full Article]

 

The soldiers were from a unique American unit — the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team. It was the only unit in the US armed forces during World War II whose enlisted men were all of Japanese ancestry.

 

Events across the US are honoring the Japanese-Americans of the 522nd who rescued Jewish survivors of a Dachau subcamp and death marches. The brave soldiers’ recognition is tied to another observance of sorts: This year marks 75 years since Executive Order 9066, under which a suspicious US government at war with Japan relocated Japanese-Americans — citizens and non-citizens alike — to sites now called “internment camps.” In an ironic twist, Japanese-Americans who rescued Jews from Dachau often had family members in US “concentration camps,” as they were called back then.

 

On April 30 in Seattle, the 522nd was the subject of “Japanese American Soldiers and the Liberation of Dachau,” the culminating event of a three-part series, “The Holocaust and Japanese American Connections,” initiated by 442nd veteran Tosh Okamoto. Partners included Seattle’s Holocaust Center for Humanity, the Nisei Veterans Committee, the University of Washington Department of American Ethnic Studies, and the Consulate-General of Japan in Seattle.

 

“Being a community activist, many of our fellow Americans know about the Holocaust, but few know about the Japanese and [Japanese Americans’] relatively small part in the Holocaust [narrative],” Okamoto, 90, wrote in an email. “[It] seemed to me that the Holocaust horrible story is not getting the interest it should, therefore adding the Japanese part could add to the Holocaust [narrative], in some shape or form.”

 

Okamoto, who did not serve with the 522nd, was a late replacement with the 442nd in war-ravaged Italy in 1945, after the conflict had ended.

 

“I wanted to volunteer, but [my] mother [told] not me to do so,” he wrote. “[My] father had a severe heart attack while we were in what our [government] called ‘relocation centers’ but really were concentration camps. So after Dad recovered [somewhat], I was drafted. Dad was disabled for [the] rest of his life.”

 

The first two events in the Seattle program addressed concentration camps in Europe and the US, as well as Japanese Consul Chiune Sugihara, who saved thousands of Lithuanian Jews from the Holocaust.

 

The concluding event coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day. The master of ceremonies was Ken Mochizuki, author of the children’s book “Passage to Freedom: the Sugihara Story.” He was a featured speaker at the Sugihara event.


“Amazingly, the [522nd] event became like a confluence of history, with those in the audience including a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, a woman raised in Amsterdam who knew Anne Frank’s family, and a veteran of the US 42nd Rainbow Division which liberated Dachau’s main camp,” Mochizuki wrote in an email.

 

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Director of Education Ilana Cone Kennedy​ talks about the Holocaust Center for Humanity​'s upcoming exhibit, Holocaust Remembrance Day, and more... On KING 5​ New Day Northwest with Margaret Larsen. 

CuriousGeorgeNewDayVideo1

 

 

Click here for King 5 Video

"Never forget” is a phrase often uttered after horrific tragedies, but at the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle, there’s a fear the world is forgetting after recent comments from a prominent White House staffer.

“You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” the White House press secretary said on Tuesday when he compared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler, and apologized later: “I got into a topic I shouldn’t have, and I screwed up. I hope people understand we all make mistakes.”

Though Sean Spicer apologized soon after his eyebrow-raising remarks, some are wondering if the mistake is a sign of a larger societal symptom: Ignorance about the Holocaust.

“Best case scenario: Spicer has a tenuous grasp of history. And worst case: he’s sort of feeding into denial, which I think is a rising issue now. As time moves on and the survivors pass, we're getting further and further from the history,” Holocaust Center for Humanity executive director Dee Simon said.

The Center has a canister of Zyklon B from Auschwitz. Nazis used the cyanide-based pesticide to kill about one million people in extermination camp gas chambers, according to Simon.

Since the comments on Tuesday, museum goers are giving the canister some added attention.

“It was a highly poisonous insecticide used to kill over a million Jews and other victims,” Judyth Weaver, of Seattle, said, reading the exhibition card.

She brought her three grandchildren to see the Curious George exhibit at the museum.

“I think the younger generation is losing touch with a lot of things, the Holocaust being one of them,” Weaver said.

Her grandchild Celia, 10, says many of her friends do not know about the Holocaust: “but since I am half Jewish, then they learned about some of it. But some people just don't really care about it or don't want to learn more about it.”

More than 40 states, including Washington, do not legally require school districts teach students about the Holocaust, though some may recommend it.

“They get Hitler confused with Stalin -- it’s shocking,” Simon said of some high school and college students’ knowledge of the Holocaust.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is Monday, April 24. On Sunday, April 23, the Holocaust Center for Humanity is having two survivors talk about their experiences in an effort to keep their stories alive.

© 2017 KING-TV

"The impact of [Elie Wiesel's] legacy continues in our Seattle community at the Holocaust Center for Humanity which upholds his dedication to promote and teach citizenship and tolerance through the lessons of the Holocaust."

Representative Adam Smith, Washington's Ninth District

Continued Support for Our Jewish Community

After Holocaust Remembrance Day, I spent time reflecting on the invaluable role Jewish-Americans play in the 9th Congressional District and our society as a whole. Their unique experiences, including their persecution during the Holocaust, continue to teach us how important it is to remember history’s lessons so that we do not repeat our most egregious mistakes.

On January 27, 2017 we commemorated the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. This commemoration was a time for us to all to reflect on the dangers of hate and to reaffirm our commitment to fight for an inclusive and tolerant world.

On February 1, 2017, I ensured that my words also created concrete actions. I cosponsored H.Res. 78 which reiterated the indisputable fact that the Nazi regime targeted the Jewish people in its perpetration of the Holocaust. This piece of legislation calls on every entity of the executive branch to affirm this fact.

While the Holocaust destroyed millions of lives, it also created heroes that we should all look to for guidance. One such hero was Elie Wiesel. Recently, I had the privilege to honor Elie’s contributions to the Jewish-American community by submitting a letter of remembrance to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s tribute to Elie. His memory lives on through his countless books that depict his childhood experiences with the Holocaust. When he was just 15, his entire family was abducted and taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp; Elie was the only member of his family to survive. After liberation, Elie became an advocate for human and civil rights, from his support for Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians to his founding role of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993. The impact of his legacy continues in our Seattle community at the Holocaust Center for Humanity which upholds his dedication to promote and teach citizenship and tolerance through the lessons of the Holocaust.

I look forward to continuing my support of our Jewish-American community in every way that I can, from further legislation to increased outreach and awareness.