On July 15, the charitable arm of the international law firm Holland & Knight held an awards dinner for its annual Holocaust Remembrance Project essay contest at the Skirball Cultural Center, the program’s first culmination in Los Angeles in its 16-year history. The dinner celebrated essay submissions of 10 teens from across the country, nine of them recent high school graduates and one who will be a senior this fall.
“It’s hard to think of Holland & Knight without the Holocaust Remembrance Project,” said Angela Ruth, executive director of the Holland & Knight Charitable Foundation. “It’s become so ingrained with the culture of the firm that we cannot imagine not doing this anymore.”
Stephen Smith, executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, gave the keynote speech, praising the poetic and incisive language of the contest’s top essay, “The Guys,” by David Cain Day of Colorado. Day wrote of his childhood memories of hearing stories from Holocaust survivors he met regularly over breakfasts at McDonald’s.
In the essay, Cain describes a survivor’s tattoo as a “malevolent stain,” a metaphor that Smith said holds up with the strongest Holocaust literature.
Day and two other top winners, Sara Brenner of New York and Donald Mayfield Brown of Mississippi, received college scholarship funds on top of the $2,500 awarded to the 10 first-place essayists.
Approximately 2,000 students submitted essays for the contest, Ruth said, and nearly 300 people attended the awards dinner, among them Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry and Councilman Paul Krekorian.
Actor Glynn Turman, who appears on the HBO series “The Wire” and who co-founded a free summer camp for at-risk youth, served as the evening’s master of ceremonies.
Prior to the awards dinner, a modest but poignant art exhibition showcased Holocaust-inspired works. Filmmaker Hilary Helstein stood alongside pieces that were spotlighted in her recent documentary, “As Seen Through These Eyes.” Narrated by Maya Angelou, Helstein’s film highlights Holocaust victims’ resistance through art.