At 10 a.m. on Thursday morning, sirens were sounded for two minutes throughout Israel, bringing the streets to a complete standstill as Israelis marked in unison Yom HaShoah, Israel’s national Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Ceremonies were held across the country and places of entertainment were closed.
The official opening ceremony took place on Wednesday evening, in Warsaw Ghetto Square, at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered remarks at the opening ceremony.
In a special statement issued in honor of Yom HaShoah, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the Chief of General Staff of the IDF, stated that if we could hear the voices of Holocaust victims, “we would hear them asking of us one thing —that we never be dependent on favors from anyone else. We, the commanders and soldiers of the IDF, past, present and future, comprise the defensive forces that they prayed for on their way to the crematoria.”
“The yellow stars have been replaced by combat insignia, and a Star of David flies proudly on the flag of an independent and defended Israel,” he said. “With one hand, we salute the fallen, while we make a fist with the other, prepared to beat down every threat.”
The central theme for this year’s Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day is “The War Within the War: the Struggle of the Jews to Survive During the Holocaust.”
Explaining the theme, Yad Vashem wrote that during the “the Jews in the German-occupied territories had to struggle, both as individuals and collectively, for their very existence and for the survival of their family members and fellow Jews. They risked their lives in frequent acts of solidarity and aid for their persecuted brethren. The struggle for physical survival under the terror of Nazi German rule entailed hiding and escape, smuggling food, administering aid and social welfare, and providing medical care. Jews in underground movements all over Europe attempted to organize a wide range of rescue efforts, in order to save as many other Jews as possible.”
While fighting for their physical existence, the Jews “persisted in their struggle to preserve their Jewish identity, culture and religion. Jews in the ghettos initiated clandestine educational activities, published underground newspapers, and conducted extensive and varied political activities. Observant Jews fought for communal survival, whether by gathering in prayer quora (minyanim), or by adhering, even symbolically, to the rhythm and highlights of the Jewish calendar, even in concentration camps. Jewish music continued to be played in concerts organized by culture committees in the ghettos or in the forests, with musical instruments taken on the run. Drawings, songs and stories were created and hidden away for posterity. Thus, they sought to remember the past, feel the pain of the present, and dream of the future.”