The State of Israel marked the beginning of Yom HaShoah, its national Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day, on Wednesday night with an official ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, in memory of six million Jewish men, women, and children who were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.
The ceremony included remarks by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Yad Vashem Council Chairman and Holocaust survivor Rabbi Israel Meir Lau kindled the Memorial Torch.
During the ceremony, six torches were lit, and the stories of the six Holocaust survivors who lit them were presented during short videos. Shmuel Naar, Zehava Gealel, Yossi Chen, Halina Friedman, Sara Fishman, and Manya Bigunov lit the torches.
The ceremony featured a traditional memorial service, including the recitation of a chapter from Psalms by Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi David Lau. The Rishon LeZion, Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef recited the Kaddish mourner’s prayer, and a cantor recited the El Maleh Rahamim, the Jewish prayer for the souls of the martyrs.
Rivlin recounted that as president he has “stood next to other heads of state at death camps, valleys of death, memorial sites and museums across Europe. I did not stand alone. With me were six million of our brothers and sisters.”
“You survivors also stood with me. I have no words to describe the strength I drew from you. You Holocaust survivors, heroes of our rebirth, who found the fortitude do get up from the ground soaked in blood and tears, to look forward, to choose life, to love, to laugh, to enjoy, to believe, to build and to create. To build a national home and a home of your own,” he said.
In his remarks during the solemn event, Netanyahu noted Israel’s progress and achievements, but cautioned that “as we move forward – there are things that can set us back. The nuclear deal with Iran, which allowed it to advance the development of an arsenal of atomic bombs with international approval, is once again on the table. But history has taught us that such agreements, with such extremist regimes, are worth as much as a garlic peel. Even to our best friends, I say: let there be no mistake. An agreement with Iran that will pave the way for nuclear weapons – weapons that threaten us with destruction – such an agreement will not bind us, in any way. There is only one thing that will oblige us: to prevent anyone who seeks to destroy us from carrying out his plot.”
“During the Holocaust, we did not have neither the power to defend ourselves nor the sovereign right to defend ourselves. We were disenfranchised, defenseless. Today we have a state, we have a protective force, and we have the natural and complete right as the sovereign state of the Jewish people to protect ourselves from our enemies,” he underscored.
The somber day’s theme is “Until the Very Last Jew: 80 Years Since the Onset of Mass Annihilation,” 80 years since Nazi Germany commenced its methodical program to annihilate world Jewry with the murder of 1.5 million Jews in territories they occupied in the USSR by mass in shootings pits.
At 10 o’clock on Thursday, the entire country came to a standstill and maintained two minutes of silence as sirens were sounded in memory of the Holocaust victims.
The traditional Wreath-Laying Ceremony took place in the Warsaw Ghetto Square at the base of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument.