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(photo credit: Joe Malcolm )
Vincenzia Lopo, an Italian high school senior, looked down as she spoke of an Italian family that had been decimated by the Holocaust. Lopo raised her eyes as she told of the family's only surviving member, who had traveled to Israel to plant a tree at Yad Vashem in the memory of those lost.
The story came full circle when on her trip to Yad Vashem on Tuesday, Lopo saw the tree. She explained that the tree "gave significance to the journey. It invoked in us the duty to remember."
Lopo spent four days in Israel as a part of a group of 70 visiting Italian high school students. Pierro Marrazzo, the governor of Lazio, a state in central Italy, brought the students to Israel as the grand prize in a yearlong contest which asked participants to depict images of the "righteous among the nations."
Titled "Memory Lane," the project involved 1,000 students from 45 schools in the southern region of Lazio.
"I thought that the kids in my region should be familiar with the Shoah. I wanted them to know that evil could never really defeat good. The one place throughout the world that contains these two values together, evil and good, is Yad Vashem," Marrazzo said.
The Anti-Defamation League took interest in the project and helped to coordinate the trip to Israel.
"We thought this was a very tangible way of working with the students," Alessandro Ruben, head of the Italian branch of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said of the project. "The kids are a link in the chain of the righteous of the nations, connecting the past to the future."
Sylvia Costa, the regional deputy of education in Lazio, said the project followed Italy first Holocaust Remembrance Day.
"The theme of the project was pursuing the pathway of righteous people," said Costa. The students had complete freedom as to the form the project took. They investigated resistance efforts, the impact of the Holocaust on families in their region and Jewish history.
Four judges, including the head of a Jewish school in Rome, evaluated the works based on specific criteria such as creativity, accuracy, and depth of research. Two of the three winning projects took the form of multimedia DVD presentations, focusing on interviews and documentation of Holocaust atrocities in Italy. The other winning project was an essay which traced the history of righteous people from antiquity through the Holocaust.
"Undoubtedly, this has been a very conclusive phase of a long process of work. Here, we have seen and talked to people that we had learned about at school. Being in Jerusalem, talking to people - to Jews - was quite different from studying about the topic," reflected Marianna Minott, a visiting student.