Breaking News
More () »

Students highlight Polish Holocaust hero

Poland is a long way from East Tennessee but three students who traveled there will keep it close in their hearts

Three students from East Tennessee were finalists in a national education contest. They researched, wrote, and performed a 10-minute piece about a hero from World War II who saved lives in Poland.

Winning a medal at the national competition was amazing but what came next was even better.

Their original performance tells the story of a hero from the Holocaust..

"It was about Irena Sendler who was a Polish social worker during WWII. During the war she saved 2,500 Jewish people and about 600 were children she smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto," Emerson Kidd-Benthall said.

Now she is a 9th grade student at Maryville Junior High.

But last year when she was in 8th grade at Clayton Bradley STEM Academy, Emerson-Kidd Benthall, Tara Shealy, and Riley Whitecotton earned a medal in the National History Day Contest.

Then they were invited to Poland to be featured at a film festival earlier this month that preserves the history of Poland during German and Soviet occupation.

They performed twice and explored Poland.

"To hear all the stories and the things that happened to them it just made you realize how different parts of the world can see different things," Tara Shealy said.

Riley Whitecotton said, "The crazy amount of history that it had. Just everywhere you looked there was something historical, something that had the history of Poland in it."

They learned a little bit of Polish while they were there.

"I learned dzien dobry which means good day," Emerson said.

They felt like celebrities.

"We got to meet the president of Poland. That was really incredible," Tara said. "Whenever we were in the festival area we had people following us with cameras and taking pictures."

They had a fascinating encounter with someone connected to the performance they researched and wrote.

"We got to meet Elzbieta Ficowska who was rescued by Irena at 6 months old. The only thing that she ever knew about her family came from the little spoon than her father made her and gave to her before she left," Riley said.

"Just to meet her and know that she had to go through all of this trouble that we researched and seeing that living example of other people's bravery was just amazing."

Emerson said, "I feel like I need to tell everyone that's here how amazing Poland is and how impactful their history is."

Their experience in Poland will stay with them forever along with the lessons learned from a Polish hero.

"She showed us that one person or just a few people can make such an impact and make such a difference on so many people's lives," Emerson said.

Their performance ends with a powerful line.

"There is nothing more devastating than hatred and nothing more precious than human kindness."