Prime Minister Naftali Bennett delivered a stark message Wednesday as the country ushered in its annual Holocaust memorial day, called on the world to stop comparing the Holocaust to other events in history.
Speaking at Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the 6 million Jews slaughtered by the Nazis and their collaborators, Bennett also warning Jews against letting internal divisions tear society apart.. He spoke after leaders in both Ukraine and Russia drew parallels between their ongoing war and the genocide during World War II.
"As the years go by, there is more and more discourse in the world that compares other difficult events to the Holocaust. But no," he said. "No event in history, cruel as it may have been, is comparable to the extermination of Europe's Jews by the Nazis and their collaborators."
Bennett's speech, coming on one of Israel's most solemn days of the year, came in a deeply personal context as well. On Tuesday, his family received a letter with a live bullet and a death threat. Israeli authorities tightened security around the premier and his family and were investigating.
"My brothers and sisters, we cannot, we simply cannot allow the same dangerous gene of factionalism dismantle Israel from within," Bennett said.
Bennett did not explicitly refer to politics. But he leads a narrow coalition that recently lost its parliamentary majority. His government is made up of eight parties that have little in common beyond their shared animosity to former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Netanyahu, now the opposition leader, has worked hard to deepen divisions within the coalition.
In addition to speeches by Bennett, President Isaac Herzog and others, Wednesday's ceremony featured survivors lighting six torches. The speaker of German's parliament, Baerbel Bas, also attended as a special guest.
The national Holocaust Remembrance Day opening ceremony was also attended by Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut and IDF Chief of Staff Major Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi.
"We stand at a historic crossroads as we part from the last generation of survivors, most of them children who were rescued under a borrowed identity and in hiding," said Aya Ben Naftali, director-general of the Massuah International Institute for Holocaust Studies, at the opening of the event.
"Their struggle for survival, as their efforts to pick up the piece of their lives the day after their liberation is a testament to the mental fortitude they displayed in the crucible of war and the human ability to cope with even the most terrible loss of all."
Like in previous years, the state ceremony was held in the contest of the ongoing plight of many of the Holocaust survivors who are still living in Israel. Many of them living in poverty and loneliness.
The number of living Holocaust survivors continues declining year by year, and today there are 161,400 living in the country. According to the Authority for the Rights of Holocaust Survivors, since last year's Holocaust Day, 15,553 survivors have died, an average of 42 every day.
The average age of Holocaust survivors is 85.5. About 31,500 of them have passed the age of 90, and more than 1,000 are over 100.
"The State of the Jews arose as a lighthouse expressing the victory of light over darkness and promising that never again will a Jewish child hide in a dark and isolated cellar from those who want him dead. Never again will parents be torn apart from their children and sent on their final steps, simply because they are Jews. And never, ever, will depraved murderers stand behind a Jewish family, shoot them, and dispatch them into the valley of the shadow of death," Herzog said in his speech.
"Our beloved Holocaust survivors, your memory is our memory, and the task of bequeathing it falls to all of us. It is we who bear the duty to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and to hand them down, from generation to generation.
"We stand no chance, nor have we any justification as a people and as a state, if we do not remember forever what happened to our people, in the ghettos, in the basements of the Gestapo, in the execution pits, in the death trains, in the extermination camps, in the crematoria, and in every other place where the image of humanity was lost and no trace of compassion survived."
During the annual memorial, places of entertainment and restaurants close and TV stations either go dark or dedicate programming almost exclusively to Holocaust documentaries, interviews with survivors and melancholy music.
On Thursday morning, Israel will come to a standstill as sirens wail for two minutes. Pedestrians typically stop in their tracks, and cars and buses halt on the streets while drivers and passengers step out of their vehicles to stand with their heads bowed.
Other ceremonies include the public reading of names of Holocaust victims at Israel's parliament and elsewhere around the country.
First published: 20:32, 04.27.22