Last Thursday morning, at exactly 10 o’clock, all of Israel froze for two minutes. A siren was heard in every corner of the country, marking the beginning of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day), the world day of remembrance of the Jewish victims and fighters murdered by Nazism.
Both passers-by and vehicles stopped where they were and stood in total silence in honor of the fallen. The victims of World War II are estimated at 70 million, including six million European Jews. A lesser-known fact is that about 1.5 million Jews fought in the Allied armies and in the Resistance.
After the siren, an official ceremony began at the Yad Vashem (remembrance) museum, with the presence of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, President Isaac Herzog, and Holocaust survivors. Throughout the day there were different allusive acts in schools, high schools, municipalities, and military bases.
Yom HaShoah is one of the most solemn occasions in the Israeli calendar. All entertainment sites close, radio and television broadcast documentaries about the tragedy and interview historians. The national flag flies at half-mast.
The Holocaust is a historical event very much in the memory of the Jewish people. The State of Israel was founded in 1948, three years after the end of the war. It immediately became a refuge for hundreds of thousands of survivors who made the country their new home. 170,000 of them still live there.
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The date chosen for Yom HaShoah coincides, according to the Hebrew calendar, with the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. It was one of the most important acts of Jewish resistance. It resisted more than several European states.
The highest government authorities took part on Thursday in the annual “Every Person Has a Name” ceremony in the Chagall Hall of the Knesset (Parliament) to honor the memory of the victims.
Premier Naftali Bennett told the story of his wife Gilat’s grandfather, who lost his father and emigrated to Israel in 1957.
President Herzog read the names of family members murdered in the Holocaust and told in a few words their stories. “In their memory. In memory of the 10,000 Jews of the Lomza ghetto in Poland murdered, massacred, and exiled to Auschwitz in January 1943… Lomza was the birthplace of my grandfather, Rabbi Isaac HaLevi, and where a glorious Jewish community had flourished for centuries,” he said.
The president then told the story of a cousin of his father. “In memory of Annette Goldberg, née Herzog, 21 years old, from Paris. Annette was captured on the border between occupied France and Vichy France and imprisoned in the Drancy internment camp near Paris in August 1942.
The following month, she was put onto a cattle car to Auschwitz, where she was murdered.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu dedicated his speech to the family of his father-in-law, who perished entirely in the Nazi genocide. “My father-in-law, the late Shmuel Ben-Artzi, was a man of letters, an educator, and a great teacher. He was a biblical scholar, writer, and poet,” he recounted. A wreath was then laid at the Yad Vashem memorial.
The President of the German Bundestag, Bärbel Bas, who is on an official visit, took part in the candle-lighting ceremony in Jerusalem. She asked that her candle be in the name of Irma Natan. She lived in Duisburg, the president’s hometown, and was the head of the Jewish community’s welfare committee until she was deported with her husband in 1942 to the Izbica concentration camp, where they were murdered.
Bas said that “Germany’s responsibility” in the fight against anti-Semitism “has not ended.” “I bow my head in humility and shame before the victims of the Holocaust.” “We must not forget, and we will not forget. From our guilt, comes our responsibility,” she said. “The lessons of the Holocaust demand of us that we never tolerate the rise and spread of anti-Semitism,” Bas wrote in the Knesset’s golden book. “We stand with Israel,” she concluded.