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Listen to a Life Contest
Legacy Project
2018-2019 WINNING STORIES
Listen to a Life Contest Grand Prize Winner
Congratulations to Owen Millman, 12
and his grandmother Ruth Millman, 80
Listen to a Life Story Contest Grand Prize Winner

Owen is a grade 7 student at Hommocks Middle School in Larchmont, NY. His English teacher, Keith Christiansen, gave Owen's class the option of entering the Listen to a Life Contest as part of a larger assignment. Owen spent a lot of time writing and editing his story to make it as good as possible.

Owen has heard his grandmother tell parts of her story since he was young. Interviewing her for this contest created an opportunity to learn many more details about her childhood that he did not know before. He believes that her story should be told to as many people as possible, and that he has the responsibility to keep the story alive for generation after generation, in honor of her and other victims of the Holocaust.

Owen's grandparents live near the shore in New Jersey, and he enjoys visiting them and hanging out at the beach. He also likes playing baseball, skiing, and skim boarding.


Here is Owen's winning entry…




When I see my elegant Nana Ruth eating her chicken down to the bone, I ask her why she eats that way. She tells me "it's because of the war."

Starving. Screaming. Death. It surrounded us.

My name is Ruth Iberkleijd. My mother, father, sister and I were forced out of our home, with only the clothes on our backs, and taken to the Warsaw ghetto.

Rumors spread around the ghetto, and Father heard it was going to be bombed. We had to escape. Using jewelry, Mother bribed a Nazi officer to help us. My sister went to a convent to become a nun and Father was hidden in a basement. Mother had a fake marriage to a Christian man, who we stayed with for three months.

Eventually we became homeless, sleeping in train stations and stealing food. Always hungry. Food was always on our minds.

Nazis found us and sent us to a labor camp, where I was put with kids like me while Mother made ammunition. Bread for breakfast, soup for lunch and bread and water for dinner. Always so hungry.

I grew ill. If we did not escape, I would die.

One night during an air raid, Mother wrapped me in a blanket and stole shears to cut through the fence. She carried me through the woods for hours until we got on a train. Six hours later, we arrived in Italy. We stayed with partisans and picked berries for food.

Finally, American soldiers announced that the war was over. After many months, we found my father, sister, uncle and cousin. The other 65 members of my family had been murdered.

My Nana's answer led to an extraordinary story, where I learned that it's one thing to survive, but it's another to save your family.

Listen to a Life Contest Legacy Award Winners
Flora White, 13, and grandfriend Mae Bendit, 96, California


AN END AND A BEGINNING


It was quiet in the room, except for the eerie ticking of the clock, keeping rhythm with Mae's hammering heart.

White. Everything around her was white. The walls, the ceiling, the floors, the nurses' uniforms. White was such a clean, innocent color, unfit for the sickness and death of hospitals.

Blue. She buried her face in her husband's blue button-down shirt, unable to stand the whiteness any longer.

Mae heard the shuffling of footsteps. Charlie gently nudged her face up. The doctor spoke in medical terms she was too tired and anxious to understand. Finally, he took a deep breath, looked her square in the eye, and said, "It's cancer, ma'am." Her breath caught in her throat. Cancer?

"B-b-but isn't th-th-there anything y-y-you can do?" she stammered desperately.

"We wouldn't know where to start," the doctor said helplessly. "I am truly sorry, ma'am." Mae looked at the floor, her vision blurred with tears. "Would you like to see your mother?" the doctor asked after a minute of silence. Mae nodded slowly, and she took Charlie's hand.

The floor swayed beneath her feet. The room spun around her. Her heart throbbed in her ears. Her head ached. Her stomach churned.

"Mae? Are you alright?" Charlie's voice sounded distant, as if she were underwater. She staggered toward the trash can. She peered into the pile of gloves, needles, and tissues.

Everything inside her came tumbling out.

Two days later, Mae discovered she was pregnant. She had thought the nausea and vomiting was because of her mother, but it turned out to be the child growing inside her. Her mother didn't live to see her grandchild born, but her spirit lived on in the little girl. The baby was named Ester, after Mae's mother, to honor her memory.

Abby Mommaerts, 10, and grandmother Karen Nelsen, 65, Wisconsin


HAVE YOU EVER FALLEN IN LOVE TO ONLY HAVE IT TAKEN AWAY?


My Grandma Karen Nelsen had a good friend named Ed. They rode the bus to school together and would often times go out for burgers with friends.

It was the 1960's and the Vietnam War started. Ed's friend died in the war; so Ed decided to sign up for the Marines. Ed and Karen agreed to write letters to keep in touch because they would miss each other. Their friendship grew, and at the end of each letter was written Polish Power because they were both Polish.

Ed and Karen wrote many letters as their hearts grew closer and they missed each other more. Because their feelings grew, Ed and Karen planned a date after Ed came home from the war.

Karen was living on a country farm helping her family by doing chores, gardening and farming while Ed was a Marine fighting overseas for our country.

Many of Karen's friends left for war and some would die and never come back. Karen felt scared for Ed's safety and wished every day that Ed would come home again. Karen kept a little wooden chest under her bed with all of Ed's letters.

To this day, Karen cannot talk about the phone call she received without getting choked up or getting tears in her eyes. Ed died overseas in the Vietnam War and the date they dreamed of together was gone forever.

There are still letters from Ed left unopened by Karen in a chest under her bed. She still thinks off him as a very special person.

Karen truly believes that you should enjoy every moment that you have with someone and not waste it.

Matthew Markey, 13, and
grandfriend James Staton Jr., 67, California


NOTHING NEW


"Freeze!"

I was walking out of my local bank when a cop pointed a gun to my head. It was the summer of 1978. I was refilling my wallet with money before the weekend. I go to the local bank weekly, and today was my weekly visit. I turned around frozen in shock. I was puzzled at what I had done to have a cop with a gun pointing towards me.

"Put your hands up," the cop stated firmly. I did as he ordered, slowly. As a black man, I knew what to do when encountering a cop. I did exactly as he said. He patted me down and forced my face against a wall.

"What did I do, sir?" I asked horrified. I started trembling in dismay.

"Shut up," he said firmly. I felt sweat from my forehead drip to the ground. I could barely think about what was going to happen. It doesn't matter how many times this happens to you; you never get used to a loaded gun in your face.

I saw the officer frantically look around. I heard some shouting in the distance that I could not make out, but the cop could.

"This is not the one?" the officer asked uneasy. I heard the unknown person reply this time. He said yes. The officer took his hand off me and lowered the gun to the floor.

"Sorry there has been a mistake" he said mortified. He ran off, clearly not wanting anything to do with me.

After he was gone, I was enraged. I couldn't believe it happened – again. Even the last time it ended the same way. It was a mistake. Always a mistake. To the cops, all black people are criminals.

Gracie Meagher, 15, and
grandfather Michael Rabideaux, 67, Minnesota


NIMISHOOMIS


Ten-year-old Michael Rabideaux's understanding of his culture and self was nugatory. But after building a relationship with his estranged dad and visiting his grandmother and reading books and having visions and birthdays, my grandpa found his greatest achievement: spiritually, what it means to be Native American and how he can give back to his people.

My great-grandpa would teach my grandpa about their culture, relatives and migration history; he continues to explore his culture with motivation to find his self-identity.

While in Alaska on a college scholarship, he met an admirable Native American medicine man in an old, dark, log resort. They talked about their histories and the man proceeded to give my grandpa a gift. When my grandpa tried telling me what the man gifted him, he started crying and couldn't find the words. He doesn't believe he met this prime mover by destiny – there's "no destiny and no guilt" in life. Another part of his Indianism lifestyle is living by the Seven Teachings with balance in his mind and heart.

My grandpa helped create the Fond Du Lac School; he worked there as an English teacher, principal and superintendent. He also worked at Fond Du Lac College as an English professor.

During a difficult time at his job, he had a vision: The first night, a big black bear was wandering near a beautiful baby blue creek. The second night, two bear cubs were added to the setting. The third night, my grandpa was petting the bear cubs at the creek until wild dogs started attacking the cubs; my grandpa helped the black bear fight the dogs off.

My grandpa is in the Makwa – bear – Clan. So, because of his vision, he knows he's meant to give back to his people. Nimiigwechiwendam Nimishoomis, giza a gi'in.

Kristen O'Hara, 13, and aunt Becky Crisafulli, 51, Maryland


TEACHING IS IN MY NATURE


There are sayings like "go for your dreams" and "shoot for the stars," but the truth is the majority of people tend to do something they never aspired to do. For me, this was different because I shot for the stars and made it.

It was high school, and I had a lot on my plate, including taking a test to see what career would suit me. I was told I should be an English teacher, the opposite of what I wanted to be. My dream was to work in computer science, but as a woman the odds of getting into this field were quite slim.

I decided to pursue my dream anyway and got a degree in computer science. My career began by writing software for NASA satellites. I then did outreach to help high school girls get into computer science by teaching them the basics of programming and how to have confidence.

Today, I have a new job working in the Pentagon as ambassador for a company at the NSA. I teach the people there what I know, as well as fight off terrorists and hackers to keep our country safe.

Looking back at that test, I realize it was right in some ways. I've spent my entire life teaching others. In high school, I taught the orphans of St. Anne's things like the alphabet. As an adult, I conducted CCD classes and mentored junior programmers in computer science. I also raised money to walk in honor of my friend who died at 31 of breast cancer to teach more people about cancer.

As my life progresses, I tend to find myself in situations where I teach others because it's in my nature. I am forever grateful I have that ability.

Klayton Clark, 13, and grandmother Edna Brown, 75, Ohio


This is about my Grandma Brown. She is 75 years young. She doesn't share a lot of stories from her past, so I was honored that she took the time to share her story with me. I am surprised she chose the story that she did. She had tears in her eyes, as this story isn't particularly a happy one, but she has taught me a valuable lesson.

When my grandma was a little girl, she would go shopping with her mom. They would go to G.C. Murphy's where my grandma would admire the dresses. This particular one was an Easter dress. It was yellow, with lace at the top, a fitted waist and a bow in the back. She longed for this dress as her Easter gift.

She doubted she would get the dress. She knew her family didn't have a lot of money. Her mom was a stay-at-home mom and her dad was a coal miner. They had five children in total. She knew it was a lot of money for an Easter gift, but she secretly hoped she would get the yellow dress that her heart desired.

Easter morning came and she couldn't wait to see if her yellow dress was there. When she realized it wasn't, she was very disappointed.

Hearing my grandma's disappointment and seeing the expression on her face made me realize how much this little yellow dress meant to her. I have been very fortunate to have all the clothes I need and want. Something that simple would have been there for me on Easter, but it wasn't for her. This has also made me sad and put tears in my eyes.

I wish I could find her that dress now and surprise her with it.

Daylin Enriquez, 13, and grandfriend Robert Hect, 80, California


Click, swipe, scroll, double click, tap.

These are the sounds of modern recreation, the sounds of technology advancing and outdoor play fading away.

As a kid, we didn't play games that consisted of artificial simulations. We spent our free time playing stickball or marbles. We relished our play time outside with our friends. Stickball was one of my favorites to play.

All the kids in the neighborhood would come together to search for a sturdy mid-length stick and a tennis ball. Sometimes it would take us more time to find these than we spent playing. Sooner or later, we would find a suitable stick and ball. With our supplies in hand, we would venture in search of an open field with no nearby windows to break. Once we found a suitable area of land, we took our positions. One of us would brandish the stick, ready to hit the tennis ball thrown by another one of us who stood in the middle of the field. The rest of us stood behind our pitcher and waited anxiously for our batter to whack the ball towards us.

The sun blazed down on us as we played for hours until the sun, tired of watching us, left to shine upon the other side of the world. Once the sun had deserted us, we had no choice but to return home. But we knew the next day, we'd all be back again.



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