Israel came to a standstill for two minutes on Tuesday morning, as the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day siren wailed to commemorate the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
The siren brought life to a standstill, with pedestrians standing in place, buses stopping on busy streets, cars pulling over on major highways and drivers getting out to stand in the road with their heads bowed.
People stood still in their homes and workplaces as they remembered those who were murdered.
Immediately after the siren, the official state ceremony marking Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day commenced at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, where President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and several Holocaust survivors laid wreaths at the monument commemorating the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Hundreds of smaller ceremonies will take place throughout the day at municipality buildings, schools and Holocaust memorial monuments across the country.
The annual “Unto Every Person There is a Name” ceremony was subsequently held at the Knesset, with participants reading out names of those who perished in the Holocaust.
A two-minute siren marks Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will attend a wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.#HolocaustRemembranceDay #YadVashem #Israel #BenjaminNetanyahu #live #Reuters #news https://t.co/q0NdahaznP
— Reuters (@Reuters) April 18, 2023
Speaking at the Knesset, Herzog noted the apparent reference by a Holocaust survivor to the divisions amid the government’s contentious judicial overhaul plans and the subsequent mass protests.
“I would like to recall the moving words of Holocaust survivor Shoshana Weiss last night at Yad Vashem,” said the president.
“She called on all of us to unite and come together and protect our people and our homeland, because we have no other country. Let’s listen to her,” said Herzog, who on Monday evening also noted the internal tensions, urging Israelis to set them aside for the commemorations and other upcoming national holidays.
“We don’t remember numbers, we remember lives and people,” Herzog said.
“The fact that the name of every Jew is still being said out loud in Jerusalem, eighty years later, in the legislature of our Jewish and democratic state — that is the great victory,” he said.
Herzog will host a closing ceremony at the President’s Residence at 8 p.m.
Many Israelis held small gatherings across the country on Monday evening to hear testimonies from the Holocaust, some from aging survivors themselves. The Zikaron Basalon — “Remembrance in the Living Room” — events often feature song circles with somber music.
There are 147,199 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, according to figures published Sunday by the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority.
Tuesday will also see the commencement of the 35th International March of the Living, with thousands of students from around the world marching from Auschwitz to Birkenau — the largest Nazi concentration camp complex.
Joining the annual march this year will be several Holocaust survivors along with US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides and his predecessor David Friedman.
This year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day was being held amid growing societal divisions over the government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary.
During his speech at the Monday night ceremony at Yad Vashem, Herzog noted the internal tensions, urging Israelis to set them aside for the commemorations and other upcoming national holidays.
“This year is no ordinary year. And this memorial day is like no other. This year, feelings are rough and shoulders are hunched as if to attest to the weight of the discord bearing down on us,” he said. “Let us leave these sacred days, which begin tonight and end on Independence Day, above all dispute; let us all come together, as always, in partnership, in grief, in remembrance.”
Herzog ended his remarks with an appeal to unity, saying Israel’s 75-year history showed “you will not defeat us.”
Netanyahu hailed the “unique victory of the Jewish people” in the aftermath of the Holocaust, reflected on the forming of families by survivors, their coming to Israel, and never forgetting Jerusalem as a national symbol.
But, he added, this victory cannot overshadow the tragedies that the Jewish people — and others — endured during the Holocaust.
As he has in previous years, Netanyahu said that the calls to exterminate the Jewish people have not stopped, and today come from Iran. He stressed that past victories do not guarantee future wins, saying Israel must be able to “defend itself by itself against any enemy, any threat.”