Israelis across the country paused for two minutes Monday morning in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered in Europe under Nazi rule as a siren pierced the clear blue sky in an annual marking of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The 10 a.m. siren was to be followed by ceremonies at schools, memorials and elsewhere in honor of those who lost their lives, as well as Shoah survivors.
The country’s central commemoration event got underway immediately after the siren at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem, where dignitaries will lay wreaths next to a monument commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943.
Among those taking part in the wreath-laying are President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein.
The theme of this year’s commemoration is “Restoring Their Identities: The Fate of the Individual During the Holocaust,” Yad Vashem said ahead of Remembrance Day.
At 11 a.m. the Knesset was scheduled to mark the day with a ceremony titled “Unto Every Person There is a Name,” in which lawmakers recite names of victims of the Nazis for nearly two hours.
The ceremony’s name comes from a famous poem by the Israeli poet Zelda Schneersohn Mishkovsky (commonly referred to by her first name alone). The musical version, which is often played at memorial ceremonies, repeats, “Unto every person there is a name given by…their mother and father,” “their sins,” “their loves,” and “their death.”
Decades after the liberation of the Nazi camps, the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day continues to be marked with solemnity in Israel, with restaurants, stores and entertainment centers closed and Holocaust-themed movies and documentaries broadcast on TV and radio.
Most schools and many preschools hold official assemblies where students honor the dead and hear stories from survivors.
At 1:30 p.m. local time, thousands of people are expected to take part in the March of the Living event in Poland, walking along the three kilometers (1.8 miles) of railway tracks between the sites of the Auschwitz and Birkenau camps.
Chief Justice Miriam Naor and Education Minister Naftali Bennett will accompany a delegation of Israeli officials and Jewish students from around the world at the annual march.
The Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies began at Yad Vashem on Sunday evening, with six survivors lighting beacons — one for every million Jews slain. Moshe Ha-Elion, Moshe Jakubowitz, Jeannine Sebbane-Bouhanna, Moshe Porat, Max Privler and Elka Abramovitz were chosen to light the symbolic torches this year.
During the ceremony, Rivlin said that Holocaust survivors had bequeathed a solemn message to the world that people must preserve their humanity, even in the face of the greatest horrors.
The president said Holocaust remembrance and the lessons to be learned from the genocide of the Jewish people are founded on three central pillars: self-defense, a shared destiny, and human rights.
“Man is beloved, every man, created in God’s image. This is a sacred obligation that the Jewish people cannot and does not wish to evade. At all times. In every situation.
So too, we cannot remain silent in face of the horrors being committed far away from us, and certainly those happening just across the border,” he noted, referring to the Syrian civil war that is estimated to have cost over 300,000 lives. “Maintaining one’s humanity: this is the immense courage bequeathed to us by the victims – and by you, the survivors of the Shoah.”
Rivlin’s words stood in stark contrast to Netanyahu’s, whose main thrust was to blame the Allies’ failure to bomb the Nazi concentration camps from 1942, which he said cost the lives of four million Jews and millions of others.
Citing recently released UN documents that show the Allies were aware of the scale of the Holocaust in 1942, some two years earlier than previously assumed, Netanyahu said this new research assumed “a terrible significance.”
“If the powers in 1942 had acted against the death camps — and all that was needed was repeated bombing of the camps — had they acted then, they could have saved 4 million Jews and millions of other people.”
“The powers knew, and they did not act,” he told the audience at the national ceremony at Yad Vashem.
In a bleak address, the Israeli prime minister said that the Holocaust was enabled by three factors: the vast hatred of the Jews, global indifference to the horrors, and “the terrible weakness of our people in the Diaspora.”