NORTH SALEM, N.Y.— The Somers Holocaust Memorial Commission sponsored its annual Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at North Salem High School on Thursday, April 26.
According to the United States Holocaust Museum, the internationally recognized date for Holocaust Remembrance Day corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Hebrew calendar. It marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In Hebrew, Holocaust Remembrance Day is called Yom Hashoah.
Dedicated to the education of children about the Holocaust and other human rights violations, the commission hosts the annual Fred Bachner student project awards. Students create and submit entries to the commission that are related to the Holocaust or any other genocide. The projects can be created in any media chosen by the students. This year, students submitted original songs, sculptures, paintings and more.
Fred Bachner, a Holocaust survivor, founded the commission to not only educate children that such violations occur, but to recognize that much of the world looks away.
A short ceremony was held to award six students from Somers High School and North Salem High School for their project submissions.
Somers High School’s winners were Mackenzie Berner, first place; Alix Goldman, second place; and Alexis Ruiz, third place.
North Salem High School’s winners were: Julianna Austin, first place; Alyssa Freedman, second place; and Christopher Dolce, third place.
“It gives us a sense of comfort and pride to see how these young people understand the importance of tolerance and inclusion, and how horrible things can happen when hatred drives the human spirit,” said Dr. George Bovino, assistant principal of North Salem High School. “We simply cannot tolerate exclusionary or discriminatory behavior on any level. Our wonderful country was founded on the notion of inclusion and freedom, not hatred or prejudice.”
This year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Geisler, president of Manhattanville College, spoke to the identity crisis many Germans struggled with after the events of the Holocaust.
The German native was raised in West Germany during the time when Germany’s “conspiracy of silence” began to break.
He shared his experience with the audience and his thoughts on the evolution of German acceptance and internalization of the Holocaust in a presentation called, “The media and educational portrayal of the Holocaust during my childhood in West Germany.”
He also touched on the danger of the resurgence of anti-Semitic feelings among radicalized groups in Europe and the Middle East. He also discussed a new, right-wing political party that has developed in Germany called, “Alternative für Deutschland” (Alternative for Germany).
According to Geisler, the party began as an anti-Euro movement, but has made headlines for its ideas to build a new German identity that treats the Holocaust as a “brief aberration in an otherwise glorious 2,000 years of German History.”
“It would be a dangerous mistake to dismiss these growing movements as irrelevant fringe phenomenon,” he warned.
Students from the Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance performed dances to the theme from John Williams’ “Schindler’s List” and to the Russian State Symphony Capella’s “Fervent Supplication.”
Dierdre Winston, a sophomore at North Salem High School, shared her original song, “Someone Else Will Suffer,” that she wrote for her project.
Larry Kaufman, commander of the Jewish War Veterans Post 46, said a few words and Rabbi Halina Rubinstein of the Hebrew Congregation of Somers led the prayer and candle-lighting ceremony. Lola Marguilies, commission member and Holocaust survivor, assisted in lighting the six candles, which represent the six million Jews that died in the Holocaust.
Speakers stressed the importance of keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, no matter how grim, as the number of survivors that share their experiences dwindles.
“As this generation passes, the memory of the Holocaust is also passing from the powerful narrative of the personal experience of people like Fred Bachner, to the realm of reported memory, which is easier to denounce or rationalize,” Geisler said.