SOMERS, N.Y. - On Wednesday, April 11, students, parents and community members gathered in the auditorium of Somers High School for a somber evening of reflection, commemoration and celebration.
The night, “An Evening of Remembrance,” was put together by the Somers Holocaust Memorial Commission, an organization devoted to helping to educate the youth about the Holocaust and other genocides throughout history.
“On this night, we are reminded of how powerful hatred, xenophobia, intolerance and fanaticism can be if left unchecked and unchallenged,” said Mark Bayer, principal of Somers High School. “But, just as importantly, tonight we celebrate and honor the lives of the millions of men, women and children who lay victim to that hatred, and we pay respect to them, their families and their loved ones, who help us carry out this tradition that reminds us all that we must never forget the past.”
The program for the night included musical performances by the Somers High School band and orchestra, as well as the choir, which delivered an emotional rendition of Kim André Anderson’s “Even When He Is Silent.” The Ridgefield Conservatory of Dance performed to a composition by Osvaldo Golijov played by the Kronos Quartet.
Larry Kaufman, commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 46, also spoke to the attendees about the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps.
“As you observe our students’ projects this evening,” said Steven E. Waldinger, president of the Somers Holocaust Memorial Commission, “as you listen to them sing, watch them dance and hear them speak, we ask that you reflect on the importance of continuing to educate our youth as they learn to navigate and, when necessary, confront the issues of our troubling times.”
The keynote speaker was Shant Mardirossian, a partner and COO of the private equity firm Kohlberg & Company and a member of the board of directors of the Near East Foundation.
The Near East Foundation was founded in 1915 to give humanitarian aid during the Armenian genocide that followed the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Today, it continues its mission, helping to improve conditions around the world.
Mardirossian began his presentation talking about how April, despite being a month of renewal and hope, has often borne witness to genocidal acts, such as the Armenian genocide, which began on April 24, 1915, and the rise of the Khmer Rouge in April 1975.
“I’m here today to share with you a different story, one that I hope leaves you inspired instead of angry or sad, one that lets you believe that good triumphs over evil, one that recognizes how individuals, society and government can come together to stand up against injustice,” he said.
Mardirossian went on to talk about the Armenian genocide and how the atrocities that were happening overseas rallied the American people to raise funds and provide relief for those who were oppressed. The outcry of public support led to the creation of the Near East Foundation, considered to be America’s first real humanitarian aid effort. The founding of the NEF is chronicled in the film, “They Shall Not Perish,” for which Mardirossian served as executive producer and is currently available on Netflix.
He closed his presentation by taking a moment to recognize names from the past and present who have spoken out about the Armenian genocide over the years, including Franz Werfel, Yair Auron and Andrew H. Tarsy.
“I consider these individuals among my heroes,” Mardirossian said. “They raised their voices and stood up against injustice perpetrated against the Armenians. May they serve as a role model for all of us to follow.”
The commission also hosted the Fred Bachner student project awards, which recognizes artwork created by students related to the Holocaust or other genocides around the world. Six students from North Salem High School and Somers High School were recognized.
Somers High School’s winners are: Dylan Lanza, first place; Ryan Bonner, second place; and Kathleen White, third place.
North Salem High School’s winners are: Kate Ledley, first place; Stephanie Carlin, second place; and Isabella Piacentino, third place.
“Tonight is a reminder to us all that being human is the single most profound commonality that connects us to one another in an undeniable bond,” Bayer said. “Let us not forget that simple fact, and join together as one to change the world for the better.”