Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a defiant message to the U.S. at Wednesday's opening ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day, warning the new administration that the Iran nuclear deal "will not bind" Israel.
Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day began Wednesday night under the banner "Until the Very Last Jew: Eighty Years Since the Onset of Mass Annihilation” - marking eight decades since the start of the mass extermination of Jews at the hands of the Nazis and their allies.
Memorial events got underway with an official ceremony held at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin both spoke at the Jerusalem ceremony, which also included the traditional six torches lit by survivors to honor the memory of the six million Jews who perished.
Rivlin started his speech by remembering the Holocaust survivors who succumbed to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
"900 Holocaust survivors passed away just in Israel, as a direct result of the pandemic," he said. "They survived the ghettoes and the death camps, the immigrant ships and the internment camps. But the final battle of their lives was fought with them bewildered and isolated, behind masks and gloves, yearning for contact but parted from their loved ones. This evening, our hearts are with them and their families"
"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. On your behalf, I swore to remember and remind that the Jewish people was not born at Auschwitz and that our spiritual, religious and political character was not formed there.”
Netanyahu, meanwhile, in his speech focused on the Iranian threat and the willingness of the United States to return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
"Let there be no mistake, an agreement with Iran will not bind us in any way," Netanyahu said. "The nuclear agreement with Iran that allowed it to advance its development of atomic bombs, is on the table again. But history has taught us that such agreements in such regimes are worth as much as garlic's peel," he added.
"Throughout the coronavirus year, every day I thought of you, the Holocaust survivors. I know the stay at home, being away from family members, the isolation, the closures, were very difficult."
This year's torches were being lit by: Shmuel Naar; Zehava Gealel; Yossi Chen; Halina Friedman; Sara Fishman and Manya Bigunov.
On Thursday, the memorial events will begin with a two-minute siren that will sound throughout Israel at 10 am.
At the same time, a memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943 will get under way in Poland, with wreaths being laid at the site of the Jewish resistance to the Nazis.
Israeli dignitaries will attend via video link, among them Rivlin, Prime Netanyahu, Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin.
At 10:50am Levin will light the memorial yizkor candle at the entrance to the Knesset building. The main annual ceremony will begin at 1pm at Yad Vashem.
Holocaust Remembrance Day will end with a ceremony at 4:45pm at the Ghetto Fighters' Museum at Kibbutz Lohamei HaGheta'ot in northern Israel, which was founded by Holocaust survivors in 1949.
This year's closing ceremony is themed "Last of Kin," and focuses survivors who immigrated to Israel after their entire families were exterminated by the Nazis and their collaborators, who then perished in the defense of the country.
Unlike last year, when Israel was at the height of its coronavirus outbreak, there are few restrictions limiting the Holocaust memorial events taking place around the country.
Among the events is a project called Zikaron BaSalon (Remembrance in Living Rooms) - meetings held in homes to hear the personal experiences of Holocaust survivors.
Thousands of these encounters were expected to take place, with an estimated 500,000 Israelis taking part.
The number of guests at each such encounter will be decided by the hosts and in line with existing health regulations. Members of the public are invited to join these events and can register via the Zikaron BaSalon website.
Today Israel is home to 174,500 Holocaust survivors, according to government data. A total of 14,264 Israeli survivors have passed away since the last memorial day.
Many of the survivors living in Israel suffer from poverty and isolation, problems compounded by a pandemic that posed the greatest threat to the elderly.
First published: 19:18, 04.07.21