I laid down, let someone else be my muse.”
These lines aren't from Holocaust Anne Frank's famed diary, but from an award-winning poem by North Bergen High School (NBHS) student Kaitlyn Jauregui. The ninth-grader recently earned third place in Hudson County in a statewide literacy contest from the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, beating out thousands of other students.
Jauregui's World Honors Teacher at NBHS first brought the contest to the students as a project, asking them to write a poem or create a drawing based on what they believed the Holocaust was.
She modeled her poem after a real-life account of a non-Jewish family hiding a Jewish girl under their home's floorboards as Nazis interrogated the family.
“That situation is basically like, if you live in fear, are you really living?” Jauregui, 15, explained, from North Bergen Board of Education headquarters last week. She wrote the poem from a youth perspective after recently listening to a Holocaust survivor speaking at Bergen Community College.
“That was a horrific moment, just to know that even children were going through such traumatizing things,” Jauregui said. “And I felt that besides Anne Frank, there must have been many other kids [who suffered during the Holocaust]. Not many kids were … able to hide.”
Writing is a crucial tool to ensure that people, especially younger citizens, remember what the Holocaust was and to improve mankind, Jauregui believes.
“If more people from my generation really know about it, then the Holocaust won't really die out,” she said.
She said that the Holocaust survivor who spoke said there are people who believe the Holocaust wasn’t real (despite the ample photographic and other evidence).
“During the ceremony I went to, the survivor had spoken out about how only one third of the world believed the Holocaust isn't a myth,” she said. “There's so much information about the Holocaust and its survivors. It's not just based on history textbooks. Future generations will know that it happened and it’s not made up.”
She said listening to the survivors gave her better clarity on that history.
“Personally, before I went to the ceremony, I knew the Holocaust happened, but I didn't know they went through so much. Just to hear they lost their families,” she said.
For those who still argue that the genocide never took place, Jauregui suggests they hear about it from survivors' perspectives.
She compared Nazis taking Jews to concentration camps then to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials separating undocumented people from their families today, and the Trump Administration's now-blocked ban on refugees from Muslim-majority countries.
“Today, there's deportation,” she said. “You wouldn't want your family to be taken away just because of their beliefs or the way they look. Because they believed in something else that everyone else didn't believe in, people just go, 'Oh, you're a criminal, you're a murderer.' ”
“Kaitlyn is a great student,” said Jocelyn Morto, NBHS's guidance counselor. “She worked hard, and it's an absolute honor to have a student that receives this accomplishment. It doesn't happen very often. We're proud of her.”
Placing in the contest has given Jauregui a renewed sense of confidence in herself and her career aspirations.
“It's possible to accomplish your goals just by knowing so much more information,” she said. “I feel like I want to help children, become a teacher, or run a day care, or become a nurse practitioner. I want to help the world, somehow.”
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org