Israel Marks Holocaust Day in Official Ceremony at Yad Vashem


yom-hashoahThe State of Israel paused tonight at 8 p.m. in memory of the six million Jews who perished from 1933-1945, as the country marked the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day. The annual state ceremony ushering-in the start of the 24-hour commemoration began after sunset at Yerushalayim’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

The solemn hour-and-a-quarter opening event, broadcast live on television channels and radio stations, was attended by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council and Holocaust survivor Tel Aviv Rabbi Rav Yisrael Meir Lau, as well as scores of dignitaries and ambassadors from around the world.

In his speech, President Peres emphasized that the appearance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Geneva ‘Durban review’ conference just hours before was “a deplorable disgrace.”

“The conference opening today in Geneva constitutes an acceptance of racism, rather than the fight against it, and its main speaker is Ahmadinejad, who calls for the annihilation of Israel and denies the Holocaust,” he said.

“Criticism of the Jewish State is also tinged with chilling anti-Semitism. Among those who collaborated with the Nazis, and those who stood by and let the Holocaust happen, there are those who criticize the one state that rose to grant refuge to Holocaust survivors. The one state that will prevent another Holocaust.

“Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish disease, and its cure is incumbent upon those who perpetrate it,” the president said.

“We have learned that our spiritual heritage is dependent on physical security. A people which lost a third of its members, a third of its children to the Holocaust, does not forget, and must not be caught off-guard,” Peres said, hinting at modern Israel’s spiritual and military might.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netnayahu, speaking after Peres, also mentioned the Geneva conference in his speech, lamenting the fact that “there are those who chose to participate in the display of hate.”

Netanyahu directed a personal question at Swiss president Hans-Rudolf Merz, who earlier in the day defended his decision to meet Ahmadinejad in Geneva, prior to the opening of the conference.

“I turn to you, the Swiss president, and ask you: How can you meet someone who denies the Holocaust and wishes for a new holocaust to occur?”

Netanyahu praised “important countries” that chose to distance themselves from the conference, mentioning the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia and New Zealand.

“We will not let the Holocaust deniers perpetrate another holocaust on the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said. “This is the superior responsibility of the State of Israel and of me as prime minister.”

“Israel,” Netanyahu went on, is “the shield and the hope of the Jewish people. Here we create for the glory of our people and all of mankind. The country’s achievements in every field – culture and science, medicine and security – are groundbreaking. We are a nation small in number but of great fortitude,” Netanyahu said.

In a relay of his experiences as an orphaned child in the Buchenwald concentration camp, Rabbi Lau also noted “another child sitting in the dark, Gilad Schalit.”

“Yad Vashem decided to dedicate this year’s ceremony to children in the holocaust, so that Israel’s children might appreciate what we have: A national home. A state. Freedom. Sovereignty. Pride. Backbone. We can and should kiss this country’s ground, which enables to live a full life with a Jewish identity in our home,” the rabbi said.

The central theme of this year’s ceremony is Children in the Holocaust. Some 1.5 million Jewish children were killed by the Nazis.

During the ceremony, which included a mix of speeches and somber musical interludes, six torches were lit by survivors in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The chief rabbis of Israel recited kappitlach from Tehillim as well as kaddish.

All places of entertainment were closed tonight.

A two-minute siren will sound tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the start of a series of daylong ceremonies throughout the nation.

{JPost/Yair Israel}