On Monday April 28, Israelis commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day, with memorial services across the country.
“Today we mark Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared. “The State of Israel will honor the memory of the six million victims of the Holocaust. The main difference between the helplessness of the Jews during the Holocaust and the situation of the Jews today is that today we have a strong, sovereign state with a strong military that can defend us against those who seek our lives.”
Holocaust Memorial Day is dedicated to honoring the Six Million Jews murdered during World War II as part of a systematic, state-sponsored program of genocide developed and executed by Nazi Germany throughout the German Reich and German-occupied territories.
Of the nine million Jews who had resided in Europe before the Holocaust, approximately two-thirds were killed, including over one million Jewish children. A network of over 40,000 facilities in Germany and lands conquered by the Nazis were used to murder Jews.
The Holocaust also led to acts of heroism and defiance against the Nazis and their willing collaborators.
The focus of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is “1944: From Extermination to Liberation.”
The Holocaust Memorial Day opening ceremony took place Sunday evening at the Warsaw Ghetto Square in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. The ceremony was broadcast live, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in attendance.
Six Holocaust survivors will light torches, each representing one million victims.
A two-minute siren was sounded at 10:00 am, immediately followed by a wreath-laying ceremony at the Warsaw Ghetto Square.
At 10:30 am, the reading of names of the Holocaust victims commenced.
In schools across Israel, Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies took place on Monday morning, with teachers leading discussions on the subject in their respective home classrooms.
Yom HaShoah is marked according to the Hebrew calendar on the 27th day of Nisan. Holocaust Memorial Day is traditionally held one week after the end of the Passover holiday and a week before Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers). The 27th day of Nisan marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Rituals associated with Yom HaShoah vary widely and range from synagogue services to communal vigils and educational programs. While there are religious aspects to the day, it is not a religious observance as such.
On the eve of Yom Hashoah and the day itself, places of public entertainment are closed by law. Israeli television and radio airs only Holocaust-related programming. Even the musical programs are adapted to the atmosphere of Yom HaShoah, with the playing of low-key Hebrew and Yiddish songs.
To mark the 70th anniversary of the mass deportation and murder of over 585,000 Hungarian Jews during World War II, hundreds of high school students from around the world will travel by train from Budapest to Auschwitz, where they will join 10,000 other students on a march to the Birkenau extermination camp.
Written By: Gidon Ben-Zvi, contributor, United with Israel