Hana Greenfield: the danger of forgetting

Hana Greenfield with Vaclav Havel

The Terezin Memorial was established in the former ghetto where Jewish people from various European countries were interned during WWII. Among its activities is an annual literary competition, and the results of this year's contest were announced in Terezin on Monday. Inspired by Hana Greenfield, a Czech holocaust survivor and the author of Fragments of Memory, the event has been attracting more participants every year. This year, the motto of the competition was 'The danger of forgetting'.

Hana Greenfield was born in Kolin, a town about 50 km east of Prague. In 1942, she was deported to Terezin and later to Auschwitz. She survived the Holocaust and moved to England and Israel after the war. During the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem at the beginning of 1960s, Hana Greenfield realized how important it was to start telling the story of the genocide against the Jews.

"I wrote a programme how to teach survivors how to speak in public. That was at the time of the Eichmann trial. Until then, people looked down upon the survivors, as on those people who didn't know how to take care of themselves, who went to death like sheep and nobody did anything. At the Eichmann trial, I suddenly realized that we are not victims, we are witnesses. We are the last witnesses of this genocide that has to be told."

After the fall of communism, Mrs Greenfield started visiting her homeland again. Together with the Terezin Memorial, she started organizing literary and art competitions for Czech children to teach them about what happened to the Jewish people during the war.

"You have got here two generations of children who have missed the Czech history, because the Jewish history is part of the Czech history. We invited schools from Litomerice and Kolin, we paid for the bus. They had enough artefacts to show them at Terezin, and so the children would come."

The Terezin competitions have become increasingly popular with schools from all over the country. In 1994, when the literary and art contest was held for the first time, 33 children from 10 schools got involved, while this year, the organizers received more than a thousand works. Petra Penickova of the Terezin Memorial education department.

"This year, we reached the highest number of works which were sent to out Memorial. There were more than one thousand of works from schoolchildren. In the literary competition, children wrote about 300 works, while in the art section they sent us almost eight hundred works."

One of the secrets behind its success, says Hana Greenfield, is the fact that the organizers have been trying to attract children by awarding money to successful competitors. She explains why.

"Why would a child instead of going to play or to a movie want to learn about the holocaust? So I said I would give them prizes. We will make a competition and I will reward them. And then I said, what would a child want? They suggested books or bicycles, but I said when I was that age, all I wanted was money. So I gave them money for the first, second and third place."