PRAGUE, June 5 (JTA) — At first glance, the painting presents the simplest of scenes: A small bird sits on the branch of an almost leafless tree, preparing to launch into a light blue sky.
But closer examination reveals a scene of much deeper significance: A Star of David, a thin strand of barbed wire and Hebrew letters scattered around the roots of the tree are all clues to its real theme — the Holocaust.
The picture was among 300 paintings and 150 essays on the Holocaust entered in the annual “Man Is Not a Number” competition for school children across the Czech Republic.
Now in its eighth year, the competition has caught the imagination of thousands of Czech youths who have been given the opportunity to express their feelings about the Holocaust through images and words. This time around, a record 80 schools from 26 Czech cities and towns took part.
The competition, organized by the Terezin Memorial’s education department, was launched by Terezin Ghetto survivor Hana Greenfield, who has written a series of books on the Holocaust based on her childhood experiences.
Profits from works such as “Fragments of Memory” were used to fund the event, which is designed to educate youths between 12 and 17 on the horror of the Holocaust.
“I felt when we started this project that the young people here did not really know much about the Holocaust,” the 75-year-old survivor told JTA. “I want them to be informed about what anti-Semitism, bigotry and hate can result in.”
The children appear to be getting the message.
“I have been learning all about the Holocaust from my teacher,” said 17-year-old Ivana Cervenkova of Prague, who won a prize for her image of the bird on the tree.
“In my picture, I wanted to get across that the Jewish people suffered in the war but also that they survived and that there is hope,” she said.
An emotional Greenfield, who was born in the former Czechoslovakia but now lives in Israel, said the children’s work is amazing.
“They rarely express the actual horrors in their work,” she said. “Fear, apprehension and uncertainty are usually the main themes. When they are learning about the Holocaust, many children suddenly realize that there were many children without mothers. They start to think about the tragedy that befell the Jews, and think: What would I do if it happened to me?”
Greenfield, who worked as a slave laborer in Germany and survived the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, was honored for her efforts by the town of Terezin. On Monday, the mayor of Terezin awarded her the title of honorary town citizen for her work in helping to educate the Czech public about the Holocaust.
The Terezin Memorial also expressed its appreciation of her efforts.
“We are very grateful to Hana Greenfield for supporting this project financially from the beginning,” said education department manager Ludmila Chladkova. “As a state organization, we could not have afforded to run the project without her help.”
Last December, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust staged an exhibition of previous competition entries. Greenfield hopes others will follow suit.