Poem for the Holocaust
To look at her, Anh-Thu Ngo seemed like most other students in Secaucus High School, a bit shy, but nearly always pleasant. Yet teachers claimed she was one of the most brilliant students the high school ever had, and someone empathetic enough to win an essay contest from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
During the months leading up to the contest deadline, English teacher Veronica Serino approached several students about possibly of entering the contest, but somehow knew that Ngo would be the one to make the most effort.
"If any student could win, she could. Ahn-Thu can do anything," Serino said. "While she is a wonderful English student, she is a well-balanced a student, she seems to be involved in a lot of areas."
Ngo won the contest with a poem entitled "All who dared to Defy," and dealt with the issue of "Resistance during the Holocaust."
Ngo, born in Vietnam, said it was not a personal issue that made her relate to the historic figures.
She had developed an interest in the holocaust from her studies, and was involved in the school's Human Rights Project on the holocaust.
Prior to the contest, she had read something about the impact of the holocaust in works at school, particularly books such as the Diary of Ann Frank.
"The subject seemed interesting to me," she said.
At the reception in Washington D.C., people talked about keeping the spirit alive under the holocaust, how people resisted during those years. Some spoke of life in the concentration camps.
"A lot of times, people asked why didn't they stand up and fight back," Ngo said. "People believed that the Jews could have done more. They did a lot. They did what they could to survive. When faced with all the soldiers and all the weapons, they could not resist in that way."
She said her research showed that people did resist in their own ways, small ways, trying to make a difference in their lives.
"The Nazi was so much more powerful they overpowered people," she said. "People did what they could do with the guards around them."
Ngo said she recognized how badly people were treated.
In history class, she had done papers on the subject of how history can repeat itself, and how many of the horrors seen under the Nazis are resurfacing again in other parts of the world.
"People didn't learn," she said, attributing the cruel acts to a natural human instinct for violence that requires vigilance to over come.
"We have to look back at history and learn not to do those things," she said.
Ngo came to the United States in 1990, settled into Jersey City and moved to Secaucus in 1994. Her family worked in the printing industry. Although originally a resident of DaNang, Ngo, at fifteen, was too young to remember America's involvement in the Vietnam War, and said her parents mentioned the war from time to time, but it did not play a part in her poem.
Serino, whose husband served in the Navy, during the Vietnam war, found herself particularly moved by her student's achievement, and struck by her own inability to ever completely understand the experiences that people and her husband have had.
"There is a part of their lives I will never be able to understand," she said, recalling a time when he and she visited the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial. "There is a whole part of his life that I can never experience, from a different time and place."