San Clemente student provides insight into Holocaust through writing
By Elysia Gamo
A young San Clemente writer shined at the 14th annual Holocaust Art and Writing Competition for her powerful story of a survivor’s nightmare.
On March 8, seventh grader Peyton Ehmke placed second for her essay titled, “A Yellow Stripe of Courage,” inspired by holocaust survivor Renee Firestone.
The contest was held at the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University. She represented her school, Our Lady of Fatima Parish School (OLF), competing against more than 5,000 middle and high school students internationally.
The theme of this year’s competition was “The Courage to Create: Message to the Future,” which challenged students to utilize survivor testimony to create a unique work, such as an essay, art piece or poem.
Ehmke competed in the prose essay division because she said writing is her strongest suit.
After browsing through videos of Holocaust survivor testimonies, she found Renee Firestone’s heavy accent intriguing and knew her story would be a good fit.
In her essay, Ehmke carefully created a mirror image of the horrors Firestone lived through, and asked readers to reflect on two simple words—“what” and “if.”
“Those two words, side-by-side, can make the greatest optimist question: What if? What if? What if you could put an end to anti–Semitism? If not for someone you know, for Mrs. Firestone, for all she asked is that we remember,” Ehmke wrote in the essay.
The judges remembered those words and granted her a top five spot in the contest.
“She took a great deal of time moving words around and ensuring that it was the best submission possible,” said Claudine Schulte, Ehmke’s mother.
After revising the essay numerous times with teacher Daniella Kelly, it was time to send in her masterpiece. Ehmke’s goal was to reach the finals, but she never expected to take home a top prize in the competition.
Anxiously waiting in her seat, she was shocked and surprised when the announcer said, “Peyton Ehmke for second place.”
“I wasn’t as surprised because I had complete faith and confidence in her writing,” said Kelly. “I thought it was a beautifully crafted essay that should have won the first prize, but we’re very happy with second.”
For her award-winning essay, Ehmke received $250 and an edition of The Holocaust Chronicle: A History in Words and Pictures.
This is the second time a student from OLF has taken home a top prize in the competition. Zachary Yates, class of 2004, won the first prize and $500 for his entry in the poetry division.
Kelly noted there was no jealousy when Ehmke won because the parish community supports each other like family. The tight-knit community showed their support by recognizing her at a recent school assembly.
Ehmke said she didn’t know she was capable of achieving so much at her age, and she noted that she could not have done it without Kelly’s guidance and support from her classmates.
This may be the highlight of her educational career, but the young writer’s journey is nowhere near complete. Ehmke said she is ready to take another shot at bringing home first place honors in next year’s contest.