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The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

The Student News Site of Sunny Hills High School

The Accolade

Sophomore recalls own family history to win 1st place in Chapman University’s Holocaust Writing Contest

Sophomore+Norah+Chowdhury+%28far+right%29+reads+out+loud+her+essay%2C+%E2%80%9CStoryteller%2C%E2%80%9D+on+Friday%2C+March+15%2C+at+Chapman+University+in+Orange+as+part+of+the+25th+Annual+Holocaust+Art+and+Writing+Contest+awards+ceremony.+
Image used with permission from Fahmina Hasin
Sophomore Norah Chowdhury (far right) reads out loud her essay, “Storyteller,” on Friday, March 15, at Chapman University in Orange as part of the 25th Annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest awards ceremony.

Storyteller. 

This is the role of genocide survivors — and the title of sophomore Norah Chowdhury’s first-place essay in the High School Prose category in Chapman University’s Holocaust Writing Contest.

Chowdhury said she carefully selected this title because she was inspired to not only share the horrors of past genocides, but to encourage others to tell their accounts about them as well.

“I realized that it doesn’t matter if people perfectly connect [with these stories],” she said. “But we have to tell them to prove that genocides are happening to this day.”

Her entry, which was also part of an assignment in English 2 Honors teacher Christina Zubko’s class, was based on the testimony of Selene Bruk, a Holocaust survivor whom Chowdhury resonated with because of her familiarity with her grandfathers’ experiences during the Bangladesh genocide of 1971. 

“In the beginning, I had a vague idea that I wanted to connect the Holocaust to my grandfathers’ experience,” Chowdhury said. “I wasn’t sure if I could balance these two horrifying, yet different events.”

Houston’s Holocaust Museum website makes mention of the genocide that occurred in Bangladesh, a country located in South Asia.

Specifically, it involved the ethnic cleansing of Bengalis, mostly the residents of East Pakistan in 1971, according to the museum website. 

Chowdhury said her comparison of the two tragedies became the main inspiration behind her award-winning paper.

“I was motivated by [my grandfathers’] amazing devotion to stand up against a terrifying force,” she said. “But also in my survivor’s testimony, despite being scared, both my grandfathers and Selene knew that they needed to pass down their stories no matter what to prevent it from dying out.”

In addition to winning $400 for her first-place entry, the sophomore was awarded an all-expense-paid study trip to visit multiple exhibitions, such as the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and the Japanese American National Museum on Monday-Friday, June 24-28, as well as the opportunity to meet members of the 1939 Society and Holocaust survivors in person.  

“I feel over the moon to have the chance to go on the week-long trip and learn about the cycle of genocide,” Chowdhury said. “I feel honored to be entrusted in informing others about the virus of hatred that our society is built upon.”

To give sophomores a chance to win this contest, some English 2 Honors teachers like Zubko require their students to write an essay that follows the prompt listed on the official Chapman University website, Zubko said. A group of English instructors then pick one or more of their sophomore students to represent the school in the national competition. 

Sunny Hills has had a first-place winner in this contest for the essay “The Importance of Words” by Katie Larson in 2022.

“Norah’s essay stood out to me because she brought in a genocide that we don’t hear much about,” she said. “She connected to the prompt on a personal level and intellectually, [the essay] was a really good piece.”

When Chowdhury received the news from Zubko that her essay was one of the three submissions to represent Sunny Hills in the contest, the sophomore said her biggest challenge was to cut down her intricate sentences. 

“During the revision process, [Dr. Zubko and I] kept cutting off the extra [information],” the contest winner said. “By doing this, we made the important parts really shine.”

Chowdhury recalls being touched by the bravery and perseverance of Bruk while researching for what to write in her essay. The sophomore said what impacted her the most was how Bruk was only 10 years old when the German invasion of Poland took place in 1939. 

“The fact that Selene was five years younger than me — that she had gone through all these horrific experiences really moved me,” the sophomore said. “Everything she loved was destroyed before her, but she still had the bravery to tell people that this was a real event.” 

Besides Chowdhury and her family, sophomore Terah Nohl – also finalist in the Prose category – attended the 25th Annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest Awards ceremony on Friday, March 15, at Chapman University in Orange. Winners in all of the categories are given a chance to present or read what they wrote.

“It was really nerve-wracking because it was my first time doing a big public speaking role,” the winner said. “But I mostly worried if I was capable of honoring something that I never remotely experienced in my life.”

The sophomore said she was glad people were willing to listen to these stories to bring awareness and to remember not only the Holocaust but other significant genocides as well.

“The fact that this contest and ceremony exists is proof that we are constantly remembering the Holocaust and other genocides,” she said. 

The sophomore said she hopes to empower others to always discuss these subjects.

My grandparents and Selene became storytellers, and in extension, warriors of immense mental fortitude,” she said. “I want people to become warriors too, to tell stories they may never understand so no one will ever have to feel or tell those stories for them.”

Chowdhury’s first-place entry is posted under the “Previous Art & Writing Contests” category on Chapman University’s contest website.

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Claire Lee
Claire Lee, Staff Reporter
Junior Claire Lee enters The Accolade as a staff reporter after taking the Journalism 1 class during her sophomore year. Lee has written stories for the cub issue in the previous year, seeing it as a great opportunity to improve her writing skills and interact with the other staff members. Lee also participates in Link Crew, volunteer organizations outside of school and several clubs on campus. In her free time, she prefers to spend her time doing art and hanging out with friends.
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