It was the experience of a lifetime for Arnprior District High School student Melissa Kargus.
Israeli Ambassador Miriam Ziv, Swedish Ambassador Teppo Taurianinen and Hungarian Ambassador Dr. László Pordány join Arnprior's Melissa Kargus at the Holocaust award presentation.
As part of Holocaust Education Month this past November, the Shoah (Holocaust) Committee of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa worked with the school boards and teachers to run an essay writing contest for high school students.
The topic of the essay was Raoul Wallenberg’s Story Needs to be Told Today Because …and Kargus hit the nail on the head with her entry ‘Raoul Wallenberg: Lessons For Today’.
To receive the award, Kargus and her family were invited to the home of Swedish Ambassador Teppo Taurianinen in Rockliffe Park.
Also on hand to acknowledge Kargus’ accomplishment was the Israeli Ambassador, Her Excellency Miriam Ziv and Hungarian Ambassador His Excellency Dr. László Pordány.
“It was really fun. It was amazing actually,” said Kargus. “It was a pretty incredible experience for all of us.”
For her efforts, Kargus receives a trip to Washington to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The Grade 11 student thanked her teacher Ryan McKenna of ADHS, without whom none of this would have come about.
McKenna is known for his attention to Holocaust education, including regularly bringing in survivors to speak about their experiences. McKenna, in fact, recently won an award for teaching about the Holocaust.
He brought the contest to her attention and helped edit and proofread the final submission.
“He’s amazing,” said Kargus. “He really goes above and beyond for everything.”
At the outset of the assignment, Kargus was not familiar with Wallenberg. The more she learned, the more impressed she became.
Wallenberg was a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat and humanitarian known for his successful efforts to rescue tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust.
While serving as Sweden’s special envoy in Budapest, Wallenberg issued protective passports and sheltered Jews in buildings designated as Swedish territory saving tens of thousands of lives. “I was floored,” said Kargus. “This was amazing.
The gist of her essay was that we look back at the Holocaust and focus mainly on the evil of Hitler and those who did nothing to stop the horrific genocide.
We should also, said Kargus, focus on those selfless individuals who risked their lives to help others.
“It (Holocaust) was a reflection of the best and worst of humanity basically,” she said. “There were the people like Raoul Wallenberg who were just heroes. It’s important to remember these people as well.”
Wallenberg was the theme for HEM this past year in honour of the 100th anniversary of his birth. The contest was sponsored by the Shoah Committee and the Swedish, Hungarian and Israeli Embassies.
Kargus is a busy student, balancing academics with a part-time job at Castlegarth Restaurant and sports, including basketball, track and field and softball.