Israel came to a standstill at 10 a.m. Thursday as sirens wailed throughout the country in memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II.
The annual remembrance is one of the most solemn days on Israel’s national calendar, with much of the country all but shutting down to honor those who suffered under the Nazi killing machine.
The sirens will be followed by ceremonies marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in schools, public institutions, and army bases, including a wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem’s memorial for the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the Knesset’s annual recitation of victims’ names. The March of the Living at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland will begin at 1 p.m.
Events will officially come to a close in ceremonies at Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot (Ghetto Fighters) and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, named after those who resisted the Nazis in Warsaw and the leader of the uprising, Mordechai Anielewicz.
The national day began Wednesday evening at sundown, as ceremonies were held throughout the country, with solemn songs, candle-lightings and remembrances from survivors and their descendants. TV channels and radio stations switched to exclusive programming about the Holocaust and stores and restaurants shuttered early in deference to the commemorations.
At Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum, an official state event featured six torch lightings from those who lived through the genocide.
Speaking at the ceremony, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel “will not present its neck for the slaughter in the face of threats of destruction,” criticizing the Iranian regime and rising anti-Semitism, which he said was often dressed up as criticism of Israel, as the chief dangers to the Jews and the Jewish state today.
This year’s remembrance day came amid a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents, attacks and rhetoric worldwide and particularly in the United States and Western Europe, a theme that featured prominently in Israeli officials’ speeches at Yad Vashem.
Hours before the ceremony, researchers at Tel Aviv University said that 2018-2019 saw “an increase in almost all forms of anti-Semitic manifestations, in the public space as well as in the private one.” Many Jews in the Diaspora feel increasingly insecure and are questioning their place in society, they said.
Capped by the shooting that killed 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on October 27, assaults targeting Jews rose 13 percent in 2018, according to the study.
A separate study by the Anti-Defamation League released this week showed a decrease in overall anti-Semitic incidents but an increase in violence against Jews in the United States.