Two New Jersey public school students are among six winners of a nationwide essay contest whose theme was the bravery of Jewish partisans who resisted the Nazis during World War II.
Both Nicholas Sexton, an 11th-grade student at McNair Academic High School in Jersey City, and Ashley Gomez, a ninth-grader at Arts High School in Newark, won third prizes in their age categories for writing 500-word compositions on an Austrian partisan named Harry Burger, who joined a group of Italian fighters in sabotaging German electrical plants (see sidebar). Contestants were asked to consider the chosen partisan’s life in the context of a quote attributed to British philosopher Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
“I was inspired by the fact that Burger immediately jumped at the chance to help,” Ashley wrote in her junior division essay. “What teenager has the guts to say, ‘I have no experience or training in the art of war, but yes! Let’s go bomb an electrical plant!’ He is truly a role model for me now.”
“The ‘good people’ of the Jewish partisans did not ‘do nothing,’” wrote Nicholas in his upper division entry. “In fact, they did all that they could. Harry Burger’s story is a perfect example of taking a stand against depraved authority.”
“I felt Harry Burger was one of the less violent of the Jewish partisans,” said Nicholas, the son of a Catholic father and Buddhist mother. “Even though violence is sometime called for, I supported the way Burger did it. By committing sabotage he destroyed property, not human lives,” he told NJ Jewish News in an Aug. 1 phone interview.
“Winning is a great honor,” Nicholas added.
‘From the heart’
“Not bad for high school and middle school kids,” said Doug Moss, outreach and marketing director for the contest’s sponsor, the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. “They wrote from the heart and were inspired by the topic.”
Ashley, Nicholas, and nearly 500 other contestants from schools in the United States, Canada, and South Africa were asked to select one of 44 partisans profiled on the foundation’s website.
The San Francisco-based foundation works to memorialize the 20,000 to 30,000 Jews who battled the Nazis and resisted incarceration and death, evens as millions of others were slaughtered in ghettos, killing fields, and concentration camps.
“We feel the partisans are a very untold story,” said Moss in a July 27 phone interview. “Most people think Jews went off to concentration camps like lambs to the slaughter and there was no resistance.
“We have no idea about the body counts, but more than anything else, the partisans were disruptive. They blew up supply lines and trains. They did a lot of espionage and spy work. They were a key point in the Allied victory,” he told NJJN.
To Moss, the annual writing contest is a valuable way to connect young people with a group of heroic freedom fighters who are often considered historical footnotes. The participating students, from sixth through 12th grade, come from “a broad spectrum. We have a strong participation from public and parochial schools, and not just those from Jewish day schools,” he said.
First-prize winners received iPods and DVDs about the Jewish partisans; second-place winners and the NJ students and their teachers received foundation T-shirts, posters, and stickers.