By Cindy Mindell
FAIRFIELD – When Congress established the United States Holocaust Memorial Council in 1980, it was not only in order to raise private funds to build the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The council was also tasked with coordinating civic ceremonies for the annual Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust in the nation’s capital, and providing support for state and local civic ceremonies in each of the 50 states.
Fairfield is one of the towns that took the council’s call for national remembrance to heart, organizing a multi-faith Town of Fairfield Holocaust Commemoration Committee in 1983 on the initiative of the late Eunice S. Postol, a member of the Board of Selectmen. With the endorsement of the selectmen, Postol joined that year with the Rev. Richard Rush, then pastor of First Church Congregational, to hold the town’s first Holocaust Commemoration at the church. Since then, Fairfield’s annual commemoration has been organized and conducted during the Days of Remembrance by this civic committee, attached to the First Selectman’s office.
This year, the Town of Fairfield will host the 31st Annual Holocaust Commemoration on Wednesday, April 30, 7:30 p.m. at the First Church Congregational at 148 Beach Road.
The annual observance honors local Holocaust survivors and their families, and features a keynote speaker, often a survivor or a concentration camp liberator. The program also includes musical or spoken presentations by local students, and a candle-lighting ceremony.
As the generation of survivors and liberators has aged and died, academics and others have increasingly assumed the role of keynote speaker. This year’s address, “Confronting the Holocaust: Lessons for the Future,” will be presented by Shiri B. Sandler, United States director of the Auschwitz Jewish Center of Poland. The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, Sandler directs the center’s American Service Academies Program, an annual two-week educational initiative in the U.S. and Poland for a select group of cadets and midshipmen from the four U.S. military academies.
The commemoration features longtime participants, the Chamber Singers of the Fairfield County Children’s Choir (FCCC), conducted by FCCC founder and music director Jon Noyes.
Noyes considers the commemoration one of the most significant community events on the Town’s calendar. “We have been participating in the program for so long that I can’t remember how and when we were first called,” Noyes says. “I accepted the invitation and continue to do so. Not only is it a great community service opportunity for our choristers and a way to give back to the town, but it’s a unique, singular, hugely important educational experience.”
For the performance, Noyes chooses one piece with a direct connection to the Holocaust and another that addresses the subject of remembrance. Because the FCCC singers come from diverse backgrounds and bring different levels of awareness regarding the Holocaust, Noyes begins the rehearsal process with an educational component.
“We talk about the commemoration and how it’s one of the most important events we could do,” he says. “Then we talk about why.”
The FCCC repertoire includes an arrangement of Psalm 8 and “When I Am Silent (A Song for the Girl at Auschwitz)” by Joan C. Varner. To ensure that the singers understand the inspiration behind the piece, Noyes discusses the composer’s preface before he begins rehearsing.
Varner writes, “In the fall of 1994, while on a tour of Eastern Europe, I spent a day at the site of the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland. Even though I had studied the history and knew the facts, I was unprepared for the strong feelings I experienced there. I was especially moved by the pictures lining the walls of one of the former ‘dormitories,’ pictures of young women and teenage boys and girls who died there. The pictures looked like my students, young people with their lives still in front of them. But these young people had no chance to see their future. I was haunted by the picture of one especially beautiful young girl, and in the days which followed, as I thought about the things she might have enjoyed and the life which was cruelly taken from her, the words and music for ‘When I Am Silent’ evolved. The song is dedicated to this girl and all young people everywhere whose lives are taken unjustly. Sing it for them!”
For more information on the Town of Fairfield’s 31st Annual Holocaust Commemoration on Wednesday, April 30, 7:30 p.m., at First Church Congregational, 148 Beach Road, visit fairfieldholocaustcommemoration.org or call (203) 400-2060.
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jon Noyes and the Fairfield County Children’s Choir