DeWitt students honored for Holocaust essays


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

DeWitt — Two eighth-graders from St. Joseph Catholic School placed in the 2024 Ida Kramer Children and the Holocaust Essay Contest. The Quad Cities Yom Hashoah Committee hosts the annual contest that is open to all Quad Cities-area students in grades 6-12.


Phuc Dinh received $200 for his second-place entry, “Echoes of Tragedy: Remembering the Holocaust.” The essay focused on Aaron Elster of Poland, a child survivor who spent two years in hiding in isolation. After the war, Elster learned that his parents and baby sister had been killed. Aaron and his only surviving sibling, Irene, immigrated to America to start a new life. Phuc compared Elster’s “determination and unwavering resilience” to that of his mother, who overcame challenging life circumstances to a lesser, but still inspiring, degree.


Classmate Cade Daniels placed third in the contest and received $100. His essay, “The Price of Hatred,” also focused on Elster’s story of survival. “Aaron’s story is just one of the millions of traumatizing experiences victims of the Holocaust had to endure,” he wrote.


The students’ sponsoring teacher, Demi Franck, received a total of $100 for classroom expenses. She began incorporating the essay contest into her Holocaust unit about four years ago. “Each year when the unit begins, I try to lay some groundwork so the kids know the background of the Holocaust time frame, who was involved, etc.,” she told The Catholic Messenger. “Once enough background is established, we get into how the Holocaust truly impacted people then and now … As we learn about the events, our discussion always finds two big ideas — the destruction that hate can cause and the result of being a bystander.” Approximately 12 million people, including 6 million Jews, perished in the Holocaust, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Cade referred to the unit in his essay. “Before my classmates and I began this unit about the Holocaust, I knew what the Holocaust was,” he said. But, “The question that we should be asking is why the Holocaust happened.”

Allan Ross, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, said he is grateful for Franck’s support. “The education she is helping provide her students on the history of the Holocaust and important lessons learned are vitally needed in today’s challenging world and to the future leaders of our country. Thank you, Demi, for making such a positive difference.”

The essay contest’s namesake, Ida Kramer, was the executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities and a longtime Holocaust educator. Community leaders of various faiths and organizations serve on the Quad Cities Yom Hashoah Committee. Sponsors are the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities, Temple Emanuel, Tri-City Jewish Center, Churches United, Augustana College, St. Ambrose University, Black Hawk College and Scott Community College.

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