The State of Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday evening and Thursday throughout the day with ceremonies and events across the country, honoring the memory of six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.
The opening ceremony for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day is underway at the Warsaw Ghetto Square in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. The central theme for this year's ceremony is "The struggle to maintain the human spirit during the Holocaust."
President Reuven Rivlin in his remarks addressed survivors saying: "I came here today, to ask each one of you for forgiveness. We did not understand, we did not want to understand, and we have not done enough...Anti-Semitism and the persecution of the Jews are not a fad. It is a difficult chronic disease that penetrates deep into the heart and history of nations. We find it today in the voices that can be heard in the heart of a different Europe – from the British left and the extreme right in Eastern Europe and in Europe as a whole, and in areas across of the Arab world."
"The State of Israel will deal with this anti-Semitism by ensuring, first and foremost, a national home and a Jewish army that protects the nation of survival. We will never be ashamed that we are willing to fight. We are a nation that has survived and will continue to survive thanks to our resilience, and strong spirit...We will forever pursue the blood of our brothers and sisters, which screams at us from within the earth. We will continue to pursue the deniers, those who want to forget, and those who want to blur history...We will forever know how to protect ourselves by ourselves. The Holocaust will forever place us, the Jewish people, as eternal prosecutors on the stage of humanity, prosecutor against anti-Semitism, racism and ultra-nationalism," he concluded.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated: "It is our duty to allow you, all the survivors, to continue to live your life in comfort and dignity. Mr. President, you're right - over the years we have not done enough. But in recent years we have added resources and will add more for one simple reason: you deserve it, out of merit, not benevolence."
"The Nazis said, ‘The Jews are to blame for everything '. The anti-Semites today say,' Israel is to blame for everything’. Many of the fathers of Zionism believed that this sick hatred of Jews was rooted in the unique situation of the Jews being homeless, scattered among the nations. They hoped that if the Jews had a state of their own – the hatred towards them would pass away. Unfortunately, reality proves this optimistic assumption was manifestly erroneous," Netanyahu lamented.
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, kindled the Memorial Torch and Zahava Roth, who survived the Holocaust after her mother smuggled her out of the ghetto near Kraków in Poland, spoke on behalf of the survivors.
During the ceremony, six Holocaust survivors lit six torches, in honor of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. The torchlighters are Sara Kain, Robert Tamashof, Jehosua Hesel Fried, Joseph Labi, Chaim Grosbein, and Lonia Rozenhoch.
The ceremony also included the recitation of a chapter from Psalms by the Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi David Lau. The Rishon LeZion, Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef recited the Kaddish and Cantor Israel Parnes recited "El Maleh Rahamim," the Jewish prayer for the souls of the martyrs. Participants in the ceremony also included singer Kobi Aflalo and the IDF Paratroopers’ Honor Guard.
For the first time this year, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara met with the six torch lighters on Tuesday, ahead of the ceremony.
"You are sitting in the meeting room of the Government of Israel," Netanyahu told the survivors, who came accompanied by family members. "I think that it is very symbolic and significant that approximately 70 years after the worst disaster to befall our people and humanity as a whole, you, Holocaust survivors, are sitting here in the center of the sovereignty of the Jewish People in its new state, in its ancient land. This is perhaps more symbolic than anything else."
The prime minister said that whenever he takes foreign dignitaries to Yad Vashem, he tells them, "I have one mission. One Yad Vashem is enough. Once. There will never be a second time."
"What you endured was not only inhuman, it is inconceivable and not found on any scale. Therefore, I think that not only are you true heroes of our people, you need to be the guiding lights of our people as we need to go and remember, to remember what Amalek did to us, and in this case the Germans," Mrs. Netanyahu told the survivors.
Another opening ceremony was held at the Massuah Institute in Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak, beginning at 8pm. Six Holocaust survivors lit six torches in memory of the six million Jewish victims, while Israel Prize recipient Maj.-Gen. (res.) Dror Almog lit a torch marking the passage from Holocaust to Rebirth.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Deputy IDF Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Golan, and Massuah President Prof. Yitzhak Kashti spoke at the ceremony. Amos Hausner, the son of attorney general Gideon Hausner who was the prosecutor at the Eichmann trial, said Kaddish.