Tel Aviv : Sirens wailed across Israel for two minutes Thursday morning as Israelis stood in solemn silence to remember the victims of the Nazi World War II genocide known as Holocaust.
As the sirens began at 10 a.m. traffic came to a total standstill as drivers stood next to their cars and pedestrians stopped walking, many of them standing to attention or with their heads bowed.
Flags throughout Israel were lowered to half-mast, and the television and radio broadcast special programmes dealing with the Holocaust.
The names of the victims were read out at ceremonies at Yad Vashem’s Hall of Remembrance and at a special Knesset (parliament) session.
In the parliament ceremony, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, President Shimon Peres and Defence Minister Ehud Barak reads out the names of members of their families who were killed by the Nazis during the war.
In Poland, Israel Defence Force Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi led 10,000 people, Poles and Holocaust survivors, on the annual “March of the Living” at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
Holocaust Memorial Day began Wednesday night with a ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Institute, attended by state leaders, foreign diplomats, and Holocaust survivors and their relatives.
Six survivors lit six beacons honouring the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis and their collaborators.
“Sixty-three years have passed since the Satanic factories of death of the Nazis and their collaborators ceased to operate, yet with the passing of time, the dimensions of the Holocaust still remain beyond comprehension, unfathomably shocking, unacceptably chilling,” Olmert said at the ceremony.
“Who would have believed that 63 years later, hatred of Jews and Israelis would rear its ugly head in so many different places around the globe, provocatively and venomously, inciting hatred?” he asked.
“The voices of those who deny the Holocaust are also being heard. To them, the haters, the deniers, and all the conspirators of evil and to all of those who allow them to function within their realms, we say today: This shall never happen again.”
The United Nations has designated Jan 27, the day the Auschwitz death camp was liberated in 1945, as international Holocaust remembrance day, but Israel has traditionally marked it on the 27th day of the Jewish month of Nissan, one week before Independence Day, to symbolize the birth of the Jewish state from the ashes of the Holocaust.
According to counts held before and after the war, two-thirds of Europe’s nine million Jews perished at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.