Today Israel marks Holocaust Memorial Day, and as in every year, this morning at 10 a.m. the sirens sounded for 2 minutes while citizens stopped what they were doing and stood still in silence in memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
Last night Yom Hashoah began with the annual ceremony at Yad Vashem which began with six Holocaust survivors each lighting a flame in memory of the Six Million. At the ceremony, President Shimon Peres told his own family story:
Peres, who was born in the Polish town of Vishneva in 1923 and migrated to pre-state Israel before the war erupted, learned later how Nazi troops beat members of his extended family and ordered them to march toward the town’s synagogue.
“Someone yelled ‘Jews, save yourselves!’ The Germans shot those who tried to escape. The rest arrived at the synagogue that was made of wood. Its doors were locked. They were all burned alive,” he said. “That was also the last day of Rabbi Zvi Meltzer, my grandfather, my mentor. He was burned with a prayer shawl on his head. That was the last Jewish day in Vishneva. Not a single living Jew remained.”
This morning, the Knesset is holding its special memorial session in which MKs read out the names of their family members who died in the Holocaust. This is part of the memorial project “To each man there is a name”, thus reversing the Nazis’ dehumanising of their victims by assigning them numbers instead of their names.
There are more pictures and video clips of the ceremonies and of the country coming to a halt during the sirens at Hebrew Ynet.
There were many private Yom Hashoah events across the country as well as special TV schedules for the entire day. Last night our shul invited a speaker to talk about his family’s experiences during the Shoah and how they escaped. The evening began with reciting of Tehillim (Psalms) in memory of the victims, and lighting a 6-branched candelabra echoing the event at Yad Vashem.
My father was one of those chosen to light a candle. You can read our own family history on my Family History page here.
My sister who is a kindergarten teacher sent me this beautiful picture of the children standing to attention with heads bowed (some of the children took the bowing very seriously!):
As for all the implications for Israel, Iran and the wider Middle East with echoes of the Holocaust all around us, I went back to my post from last year’s Yom Hashoah and was saddened but not surprised to find that nothing has changed. I could have just copy-pasted the entire article and no one would have noticed.
That is probably the most important lesson of all.