Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission Awareness - Education - Inspiration

2020 Student Contest

"Using Words to Bear Witness"

The THGC is excited to announce our 2020 Student Contest!  If you are a 6th-12th grade Texas student, we want to hear from you. 

This year's theme is "Using Words to Bear Witness."  Survivors, witnesses, and other who care about preserving testimonies of the Holocaust and modern genocides have attempted to convey their experiences to others, especially the younger generations that represent the future.  By connecting with their words, Texas students can assume the role of witness and use their knowledge to improve the world in which we live.  Please see below for the complete prompt, details, and guidelines.   

Submissions will be accepted beginning February 1, 2020, and will be due by February 28, 2020.  Each submission must be accompanied by the electronic application (available online beginning February 1), parent/guardian permission form, and honesty clause form.

The contest results will be announced in April 2020, to commemorate Genocide Awareness and Prevention Month.  Each middle school winner will receive a monetary award of $250, and each high school winner will receive a monetary award of $500, generously funded by Friends of the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission. 

Contact Cheyanne Perkins with any questions, at (512) 463-5674 or cheyanne.perkins@thgc.texas.gov.

Download our flyer for a quick reference to all the details.

General Guidelines

Poetry Criteria

Visual Arts Criteria



Choose one of the below quotations.  Then, create a poem or visual art piece that reflects your thoughts on the statement you chose.


Lee Berg, a Texan and servicemember who helped liberate Dachau, remarks on the difficulty of describing the concentration camp:
“It’s hard to describe how you can walk into a situation like that…you really and truly can’t imagine what has happened…you can’t imagine human beings living or being treated that way…it’s utterly impossible in your mind to think that one human being would do that to another human being.  I mean, it’s just something that you—I don’t know how to explain it.”

Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the Egyptian who served as UN Secretary-General during genocides in Rwanda and the Balkans:
“We were not able to realize that with the machete you can create a genocide. Later, we understood this. But at the beginning, our definition of the genocide was what happened to Armenia in 1917 or 1919, it’s happened to the Jew in Europe, and we were not realizing — In our point of view, they have not the tools to do a genocide.”

President William Clinton gave a speech calling for American assistance to halt genocide in the Balkans:
“After so much bloodshed and loss, after so many outrageous acts of inhuman brutality, it will take an extraordinary effort of will for the people of Bosnia to pull themselves from their past and start building a future of peace. But with our leadership and the commitment of our allies, the people of Bosnia can have the chance to decide their future in peace. They have a chance to remind the world that just a few short years ago the mosques and churches of Sarajevo were a shining symbol of multiethnic tolerance, that Bosnia once found unity in its diversity. Indeed, the cemetery in the center of the city was, just a few short years ago, the magnificent stadium which hosted the Olympics, our universal symbol of peace and harmony. Bosnia can be that kind of place again. We must not turn our backs on Bosnia now.”

Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, the commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Rwanda who tried to halt the genocide:
“There was no way to laugh anymore, to love, to care, and there was a sense of guilt in having survived when others had been killed. I turned into a worse workaholic than I had already been by trying to work myself into the ground.”

Charlotte Delbo, the non-Jewish French Auschwitz survivor and literary critic, recalls Christmas in the Lager:
“At the end of a table, a young girl petted a small teddy bear she had been given. A pink teddy bear with a ribbon around its neck.
“‘Look,’ Madeleine said to me, ‘look! It’s a teddy bear! A small child’s teddy.’ And her voice broke.
“I stared at the teddy bear. It was a terrifying sight.
“One morning, as we passed near the railway station on our way to the fields, our column was stopped by the arrival of a Jewish convoy. People were stepping down from the cattle cars, lining up on the platform in response to the shouted orders of the S.S. Women and children first. In the front row, a little girl held her mother by the hand. She had kept her doll tightly squeezed against her body.
“This is how a doll, a teddy bear, arrives in Auschwitz. In the arms of a little girl who will leave her toy with her clothing, carefully folded, at the entrance to ‘the showers.’ A prisoner from the ‘heaven commando,’ as they called those who worked in the crematoria, had found it among the objects piled up in the showers’ antechamber and exchanged it for a couple of onions.”

Ian Hancock, the linguistics scholar and Texan, describes the labeling of Jews and Romanies by the Nazis:
“Calling a population vermin, or a disease, rather than recognising it as being part of the human family is a technique used to dehumanize it and to distance it from society. Such terms were constantly used to refer to Jews and Romanies in the Third Reich in an effort to desensitize the general population to the increasingly harsh treatment being meted out against them; after all, vermin and diseases need to be eradicated.”

Daoud Hari, the survivor of the Darfur genocide:
“I write this also for the women and girls of Darfur. You have seen their faces wrapped in beautiful colors, and you know something of their suffering, but they are not who you think. Though they have been victimized, they are heroes more than victims. My aunt Joyar, for example, was a famous warrior who dressed like a man, fought camel thieves and Arab armies, wrestled men for sport—and always won. She refused to marry until she was in her forties. I dedicate this to her and to the girls in my village who were faster and stronger than the boys at our rough childhood games. I dedicate this to my mother, who, as a young woman, kept a circle of attacking lions away from our cattle and sheep in the bush for a long day, a long night, and all the next morning, using only the power of her voice and the banging of two sticks. The power of her voice is something I know very well.”

Immaculée Iribagiza, the Rwandan woman who hid in a tiny bathroom with seven other women for 91 days during the genocide:
“The world had seen the same thing happen many times before. After it happened in Nazi Germany, all the big, powerful countries swore, “Never again!” But here we were, six harmless females huddled in darkness, marked for execution because we were born Tutsi. How had history managed to repeat itself? How had this evil managed to surface once again? Why had the devil been allowed to walk among us unchallenged, poisoning hearts and minds until it was too late?”

Walter Kase, the Jewish child survivor of the Holocaust from Poland who moved to Texas, describes his “liberation” from a Nazi labor camp after the Germans had fled:
“And in this warehouse [that we prisoners came across just outside the labor camp] there was so much food, so much bread and canned foods, and marmalade, that it was incomprehensible that here you had people dying every single day. Just 50 feet from you was food to save everybody’s life…. [Later on] we saw the American flag [approaching] and the lead tank stopped in front of us, and a young American soldier about 18 years old jumped off the tank, looked at us, and started crying.”

Gerda Weissmann Klein, the Jewish child survivor of the Holocaust from Poland, describes her father’s deportation to the camp where he was murdered:
“There he stood, already beyond my reach, my father, the center of my life, just labeled JEW.
“A shrill whistle blew through the peaceful afternoon. Like a puppet a conductor lifted a little red flag. Chug-chug-chug — puffs of smoke rose. The train began to creep away. Papa’s eyes were fixed upon us. He did not move. He did not wave. He did not call farewell. Unseen hands were moving him farther and farther away from us.
“We watched until the train was out of sight. I never saw my father again.”

Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer and refugee from the Holocaust who coined the term, genocide:
“If you act in the name of conscience you are stronger than any government in the world.”

Primo Levi, the Jewish author and Holocaust survivor from Italy, tells of the struggle to find words to describe the Nazi effort to dehumanize the Jews in Auschwitz:
“Then for the first time we became aware that our language lacks words to express this offence, the demolition of a man. In a moment, with almost prophetic intuition, the reality was revealed to us: we had reached the bottom. It is not possible to sink lower than this; no human condition is more miserable than this, nor could it conceivably be so. Nothing belongs to us any more; they have taken away our clothes, our shoes, even our hair; if we speak, they will not listen to us, and if they listen, they will not understand. They will even take away our name: and if we want to keep it, we will have to find ourselves the strength to do so, to manage somehow so that behind the name something of us, of us as we were, still remains.”

Cynthia Ozick, the American author, observes that most readers have turned a blind eye to the darker themes in Anne Frank’s diary and life:
“The diary is not a genial document, despite its author’s often vividly satiric exposure of what she shrewdly saw as ‘the comical side of life in hiding.’ Its reputation for uplift is, to say it plainly, nonsensical.”

Samantha Power, the American author of a book on genocide that won the Pulitzer Prize, argues that the United States should do more to stop genocides:
“Western governments have generally tried to contain genocide by appeasing its architects. But the sad record of the last century shows that the walls the United States tries to build around genocidal societies almost inevitably shatter. States that murder and torment their own citizens target citizens elsewhere. Their appetites become insatiable.”

Marion Pritchard, the Dutch rescuer during the Holocaust, reflects on the importance of making the right ethical choices:
“I think we all have memories of times when we should have done something and we didn’t, and it gets in your way during the rest of your life.”

Edward Willian Proxmire, the American Senator who gave over 3000 speeches on the US Senate floor urging the passage of the Genocide Convention before it was ratified by the US in 1988:
“We can talk and hope and pray that it won’t happen again, but if we want to act to prevent it happening again, the signing and the approving of the Genocide Convention is in my judgment the best way to do it.”

Leakhena Sears, the child survivor of the Cambodian genocide who moved to Texas, describes her final memories of her murdered parents; her mother starved to death.
“Sometimes we [my sister and I] could find bodies that were executed the night before, something like that. It’s like they’re not trying to hide anything, you know what I mean? Just there…. At one of the camps, the first night, my dad, they took him away, and that was the last time I ever saw him. They took me away from the family and put me in the children’s camp. And you’re in the rice field, and you’re wet all the time. Sometimes you end up going to sleep wet…. I had all these skin infections on me, and that’s why I had all the fever. And then my mom, she came looking for me. She packed her lunch, you know, her food in banana leaves to come looking for me. And I don’t know [how], that afternoon she found where I was. She didn’t even know where I was. She found where I was. And then she told me, she goes, ‘I have not eaten, you know. I’ve been waiting to find you before I eat my lunch.’ And she saved part of her portion of her food for me. She’s the reason I’m alive.”

Hannah Senesh [also spelled Szenes], the young poet who parachuted into her native Hungary with a small team to rescue her fellow Jews, only to be captured and executed:
“There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.”

Ambassador Sichan Siv, the Cambodian genocide survivor, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, and Texan, reflects on his life’s progress:
“In 1976, I was the loneliest person on earth. I had no family, no friends, no neighbors, no one to rely on, and no one to trust. I had no place to call home, no land to call a country, and nowhere to go, except death. But I had my mother’s wisdom. I had hope and was lucky to have survived one of the twentieth century’s worst nightmares.
“Three decades later, the jungle had given way to rice fields. I was blessed [in the United States] to have a new country, a new home, and a new family.”

Brian Steidle, the American military veteran and ceasefire monitor who photographed the genocide in Darfur to alert Americans and the world, describes what he learned:
“I definitely look at the world differently now. I mean, I knew that bad things happened. I didn’t know that the world would stand by and allow them to happen. I honestly thought, as I wrote an e-mail home, that if the people of America could see what I have seen, there would be troops here [in Darfur] in one week. That’s what I wrote. They would be here to stop these things because they’re so horrendous. And I was just like, man, I am so naïve. Because that’s not true at all. They’ve seen it now. And we’ve still done nothing…. I’m just some guy who tried to wake up the conscience of a bunch of people. That’s all.”

Herb Stern, a Texan and servicemember who helped liberate Nordhausen, reflects on his family's experiences during the Holocaust:
“… in the mid-1930s, while I still lived in Berlin, we heard instances where prominent Jewish residents of Berlin were taken away by the Gestapo in the middle of the night…Around 1940-41 (I was then in the US about to enter the US Army) some of us heard about what came to be known much later as concentration camps.  My father had written from England that he had received word that a number of cousins and my maternal grandmother had been sent to a detention camp in a town called Auschwitz in Poland.  Unfortunately no one ever heard from them again.”

Soghomon Tehlirian, the survivor who lost family members in the Armenian genocide, saw that the world did not punish its perpetrators, assassinated one of its orchestrators, was put on trial for murder, and was acquitted:
"I have killed a man. But I am not a murderer."

Sister Rose Thering, the Catholic American nun and activist against antisemitism, describes the universal lessons of the Holocaust:
“If we come to an understanding of what antisemitism did in the Holocaust, then, if we really come to that understanding, we will care about other people, and be courageous, and try to do the right thing, and be ready to speak up. And I guess this is my reason for protesting, for speaking. We need to do this. We are called to do this.”

Dorothy Thompson, the American journalist who was expelled from Germany for criticizing Hitler, describes what motivated the Nazis:
“Antisemitism is the life and soul of Hitler’s movement. The Nazis lose no opportunity to insult the Jews.”

Magma Trocmé, the Protestant French pastor’s wife and rescuer of Jews in le Chambon-sur-Lignon during the Holocaust, reflects on what it takes to make the right choice:
“Remember that in your life you’ll be across lots of circumstances that will need a kind of courage, a kind of decision of your own, not about other people, but about yourself.”

Elie Wiesel, the Jewish child survivor of the Holocaust from Romania, author, and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, reflects on what the Holocaust can teach us about how we communicate:
“I speak as the son of an ancient people, the only people of antiquity to have survived antiquity, the Jewish people, which throughout much of its history, has endured exile and oppression yet has never given up hope of redemption.
“As a young adolescent, he saw what no human being should have to see: the triumph of political fanaticism and ideological hatred of those who were different. He saw multitudes of human beings humiliated, isolated, tormented, tortured, and murdered. They were overwhelmingly Jews, but there were others. And those who committed the crimes were not vulgar underworld thugs, but men with high government, academic, industrial, and medical positions in Germany. In recent years, that nation has become a true democracy. But the question remains open: In those dark years, what motivated so many brilliant and committed public servants to invent such horrors? By its scope and magnitude, by its sheer weight of numbers, by the impact of so much humiliation and pain, in spite of being the most documented tragedy in the annals of history, Auschwitz still defies language and understanding….
“The Jewish witness speaks of his people’s suffering as a warning. He sounds the alarm so as to prevent these things being done to others. Had the world listened to our testimonies, the tragedies of Bosnia, Cambodia, Rwanda, and Darfur might have been avoided.”

Simon Wiesenthal, the Austrian Holocaust survivor, author, and Nazi hunter:
“What connects two thousand years of genocide? Too much power in too few hands.”

Carl Wilkens, the only American who chose to stay in Rwanda during the genocide:
“I remember thinking up ways, along with Teresa, to distract our children from the gunfire, shouting, and crashing sounds as homes in our own neighborhood were invaded and looted, and families slaughtered. I told our kids that we were going to learn a new game, and it started with all of us lying down together near the front door. Our goal was to reach the other end of the house, but any time we heard a gunshot, if a person’s stomach was not touching the floor, the person had to go back and start over. It didn’t seem possible that we were playing games in our house while, in homes nearby, parents watched helplessly as their children were hacked and bludgeoned to death in front of them.”