FAIRFIELD, Conn. – For the past 30 years, the Fairfield Holocaust Commemoration Committee has held a ceremony every year to remember those who were lost in the Holocaust. This year, it is making some changes for the April 30 event.
This year, the committee has chosen as its keynote speaker Shiri Sandler, the U.S. director of the Auschwitz Jewish Center and granddaughter to a survivor of one of the death marches.
By picking a member of a younger generation, the committee hopes the younger generations will come to hear how the Holocaust still serves as a symbol of remembrance, said Fairfield Police Capt. Josh Zaban, chair of the committee.
“I think the message is about remembrance and hope,” Sandler said, adding that her speech will also touch on how the community has a responsibility to remember and pass on the lessons learned from the Holocaust.
Sandler said she still remembers how she listened intently to the stories told by her grandmother and other Holocaust survivors when she was growing up.
“I really felt a responsibility to do something with the stories I had collected,” Sandler said. “My grandmother's friends, I think, always knew that I would be the one to share their stories.”
By sharing the stories at commemorations such as the one in Fairfield, Sandler said she can pass on the knowledge that she gained first-hand as a child.
With her grandmother, Gisela Adamski, by her side, Sandler will tell the story of how she went from a ghetto to Auschwitz and on a death march through Germany. Her grandmother escaped on a farm only to realize that she was the only surviving member of her family.
From there, Sandler says she will talk about her work with U.S. military cadets at the Auschwitz Jewish Center in her job as the director. She spends several weeks with cadets from different military schools and teaches them about the Holocaust and other genocides that have taken place since.
Sandler takes them to Auschwitz and works with them to understand what their role as military leaders will be for the people they’re working with and even fighting against.
“What I want from my students is to recognize dehumanization," she said. "I want them to recognize how we ‘other’ people.”
Her job isn't easy, she said. It's emotional and focuses on not just the Holocaust and the stories of her grandmother and other survivors, but also on all genocides around the world.
“My grandmother said, 'You can’t just do this for the Jews. It has to be for everyone,'” Sandler said, and she said she has spent her career trying to live up to that lesson.
The Fairfield Holocaust Commemoration will take place at First Church Congregational on Wednesday, April 30, starting at 7:30 p.m. The event is free, and the public is encouraged to attend.