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Hudson -- While on a summer trip to Poland, an eighth-grade Hudson Middle School student had no idea that a pile of shoes, more than 70 years old and left outside of a concentration camp gate, would later be the inspiration for an award-winning sculpture.
Grant Norman, 14, was recently named first-place winner in the art section City of Akron's Holocaust Arts and Writing Commemoration Contest. His work has been displayed at the main Akron Public Library and he was given a plaque and will travel to Washington, D.C. May 13.
The contest was open to students in Summit County.
Each, year middle school students in Jennifer Lawler's language arts class enter the contest during the Holocaust study section. Entries can be in the form of writing, multi-media or art.
"Our students have performed so well," Lawler said.
The theme for this year's annual event was "Women of the Holocaust, stories of loss, resistance and survival," according to Lawler. The students were also to expand on the lesson learned and how it is affecting modern living.
Grant chose sculpture as his medium because "I'm not exceptionally talented when it comes to writing or videos," he said.
Grant's sculpture was created from spray-painted shoes, which looked like they were from the WWII era. At the top of the piece, one shoe is painted blue, another white, to signify the theme of the woman's resistance, Grant said.
"The black shoes at the bottom of the pile represent all the people who were persecuted," Grant explained. "The ones on the top represent the people who broke away and resisted the Nazi terrorism."
The white shoe has a yellow Star of David, emblazoned on it, to represent the Jewish people and their struggle.
When the project was announced, Grant said, he and most of his fellow students were "not excited about it."
"But, it turned out to be a decent project and I was pretty happy with the results too, " Grant said.
The idea was born from a summer visit to his Uncle Phil in northern Poland, Grant said.
"On our visit there we stopped at Studhof Concentration Camp," Grant said. "Through the gate, there was a pile shoes that had been taken from the Jewish people and all the other people who had been persecuted during the Holocaust."
Grant did not know at the time that he would later be working on a Holocaust project. When the contest was announced, Grant remembered the pile of shoes from the Nazi victims.
Grant had read about WWII and the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, he said. However, touring the camp made that part of history more alive to him.
"It's a lot different when you see it in person," Grant said. "When you read it in a book, you kind of get the image in your head. But, when you see it in person, you see the material stuff that was taken and is still there. It's in a sense, a living remembrance to the people."
Grant wants the project to stand as a memorial to help remember the people who were not only persecuted, but who also stood up against the Nazis, he said.
"I was hoping to do pretty well -- I didn't expect to take first -- but it was pretty exciting," Grant said of being named the county-wide winner.
The project, which "started out as just trying to get the grade" has grown into a deeper awareness, through reading and learning, what the victims of the Holocaust suffered, Grant said.
"It helped me to realize the importance of [learning about] the Holocaust," Grant said.
Grant's mom, Sarah, called her son a great kid.
Sarah enjoyed watching Grant's thought process move from "I've got a project" to developing ideas for the painting and sculpture creation, she said.
Sarah will be accompanying her son on the trip to D.C.
"I bought a ticket too, because I've never been to the Holocaust Museum," Sarah said.
Sarah and her husband, Forrest III, have four children. Their oldest son, Forrest IV, a high school sophomore, was a previous contest entrant. Their twins, Hunter and Helena, are in seventh grade and are a year away from entry grade, but already talking about ideas. The twins are "crossing their fingers" to get into Lawler's language arts class next year, Sarah said.
The family has more in common with the Holocaust than a sculpture, Sarah said.
Members of the family were interred in a concentration camp which was liberated by the allies in WWII.
"It's very exciting and so meaningful, " Sarah said of her son's win.
Grant was invited to a recent Board of Education meeting to recognized for his win.
Board member James Field was among those who congratulated Grant.
"As a person whose family suffered from the Holocaust, I have an appreciation for the project," Field said. "You say you may not be a writer, but sometimes art is much more affective and memorable than all the writing in the world."