Much of Israel stood still for two minutes on Monday morning in memory of the six million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust.
Traffic, schools and workplaces came to a temporary halt as the official siren sounded nationwide at 10 a.m. Official ceremonies around the country started immediately afterwards, and throughout the day small ceremonies are to take place at schools and other institutions.
At the Knesset, the annual recitation of victims’ names began at 11 a.m. as the names of relatives, friends and acquaintances of legislators and their families will be read out from the podium. In addition, candles were lit by survivors and their families and Israel’s chief rabbis read from the book of Psalms and recite the mourners’ prayer.
President Peres read a list of his relatives who perished in the Holocaust, including his grandfather Rabbi Zvi Meltzer of Vishnyeva. He told me to “be a Jew,” the president said, when Peres and his family emigrated from Poland to Palestine in 1934.
In the early afternoon, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz was to head the March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau. The annual march attracts up to 10,000 participants, including this year a contingent of blind walkers from Israel led by their seeing-eye dogs.
B’nai B’rith and the Jewish National Fund are to hold a ceremony memorializing Jews who rescued their fellows during the Holocaust. The ceremony will center on the actions of Otto Komoly, a Hungarian Jew who oversaw the rescue of some 5,000 Jewish children. His granddaughter will be in attendance.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, a day after meeting one-on-one with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, visited Yad Vashem, where he laid a red, white and blue wreath in memorial of Holocaust victims. Kerry was later in the day scheduled to meet privately with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Peres, before a dinner with Netanyahu and other Israeli officials, as part of the US push for a revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Official ceremonies for the national commemoration day began the previous evening as the national flag was lowered to half mast at 8 p.m. at the start of the main ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke and six Holocaust survivors lit memorial torches in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.