24 June 2009 Photo contest focuses on Holocaust The Holocaust theme of this years photo competition for ORT students in Russia and Ukraine has been praised by one of its judges. Alexander Degtyaryov, a well-known Russian photographer, documentary film maker and author, commended ORT for its choice of subject. This competition is very important. Thank you for taking this initiative, Mr Degtyaryov, a member of the Union of Artists of Russia and Senior Lecturer at the Institute of Culture, said. There are people in Eastern Europe who continue to be drawn to Fascism and nationalism because they did not see the nightmare which Fascists had made in the last century. People need to be constantly reminded to prevent these extremists from gaining power. Mr Degtyaryov judged entries by students from six ORT schools who had participated in the March of the Living and the Masa Shorashim programme in April. The March of the Living brings young people from around the world to Auschwitz-Birkenau for Yom HaShoah. The Shorashim programme sees hundreds of ORT students congregate in Belarus for a week-long study tour of Jewish heritage and culture. Participating students at the Moscow ORT Technology School, ORT Gesher in Samara, the ORT Technology Centre at the Levi Yitzchak Schneerson Ohr Avner School in Dnepropetrovsk, the Kiev ORT Technology Lyceum, the Odessa ORT School and ORT Yerushalayim in St Petersbrug created photographs, posters and slide shows for the competition. The purpose of the competition is to integrate Jewish and Technology education in our schools and centres, said ORT Russias Dr Irina Silaeva. It is also a great way to develop students creativity and increase their motivation. The poignant and powerful images created by the students can be seen at http://ort.ru/en/projects/current/konkurs-fotorabot/konkurs-fotorabot-2009/ . Among them are the winning photographs featured in this story which were taken by Elizaveta Khmelnitskaya, a 10th grade student at the Moscow ORT Technology School, at Mauthausen. The photos were taken on a trip commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Kristallnacht pogrom. Elizaveta has not simply pressed the button but has built the shots artistically, Mr Degtyaryov said. She is very good. The intensity of the images testifies to the effectiveness of programmes like Shorashim, which means roots in Hebrew. Through the programmes tours and seminars, ORT students in the CIS and Baltic States learn about the development of Jewish identity in the 20th century from victimhood to empowerment, from the destruction of the Holocaust to the building of the State of Israel. Participating students are expected to write a research paper on one of the towns or cities visited and to attend, together with their parents, one or more preparatory seminars. Belarus, which lost 800,000 Jews during the Holocaust, is particularly rich with shtetls, synagogues, cemeteries, yeshivot and other sites of Jewish historical interest. An evaluation of the 2008 trip showed that more than two-thirds of students who defined themselves as Jewish only reported that it had strengthened their Jewish identity. Among students with a dual Jewish and non-Jewish identity there was a 400 per cent increase in the numbers who felt a sense of pride in their Jewish roots. Before the trip only about one-fifth of the students intended becoming involved in a synagogue or Jewish youth club; after the trip about two-thirds planned to do so. This years trip, which took in Grodno, Slonim, Mir, Minsk, Novogrudok, and other sites, promises to be no less effective if comments made by students from the Levi Yitzchak Schneerson Ohr Avner School are anything to go by. Having visited Belarus, having seen and heard how the Jews there lived and died, I now understand how important it is to know who my ancestors are and the price they had to pay for me to live. I can not ever forget those people, said Olya Litvyak. Olya Reznik said: Millions of lives were lost because of the awful idea that Jews are not people and had no right to live. But there were those who did not surrender and who defended their right to life. Their actions have given us, their descendants, a life out of the ghetto. Now we need not conceal our nationality; we can study freely at a Jewish school, and we even have our own State. We will never forget those who did not surrender before death and who struggled for our future. Remembering them is believing in our future. For Yana Piyavskaya, visiting the scenes of so much suffering had awakened a deep sense of empathy. Together with the victims I suffered those terrible days and understood the horror of war. And I wished for a better world, one without hunger and war, in which kindness and beauty reign, she said. Most of all, I wanted to show all that I had seen to other people so that they could believe in goodness like I do. After all, there can not be a future without faith and to appreciate life it is necessary to know what you can lose.