Israel will begin marking national Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday evening, launching 24 hours of ceremonies, services and events honoring the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II and more who lived through the Shoah.
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 the victims of the Nazi killing machine.
Cities, towns and schools throughout the country will hold ceremonies featuring candle lightings and the memories of survivors, TV and radio station will focus exclusively on memories of the genocide. At Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum, an official state event will feature six torch lightings from those who lived through the genocide and addresses by Israeli leaders.
The Yad Vashem event will begin at 8 p.m., and be attended by the president, prime minister and other dignitaries.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday his speech would include comments about a cartoon denounced as anti-Semitic that appeared in the New York Times last week. The Times has since apologized for the drawing.
Also Wednesday evening singers and actors will perform texts at Jerusalem’s Gerard Bachar Cultural Centre at 9 p.m., in a free event open to the public. Ceremonies will also be held at the Cameri Theater (8 p.m.) and Tzavta Theater (7:30 p.m.) in Tel Aviv.
On Thursday at 10 a.m. a two-minute siren will be heard throughout the country, and Israelis will stop and stand in silence to honor those who perished.
This will be followed by 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.
Hate on the rise
The 2019 remembrance day comes as anti-Semitic incidents, attacks and rhetoric are once again becoming increasingly common throughout the world, and particularly in Western Europe.
A deadly shooting at a synagogue near San Diego by a white nationalist thrust the issue back into the spotlight Saturday, the second deadly shooting at a Jewish house of worship in the US in six months.
Researchers at Tel Aviv University said Wednesday 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 deadly 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.
“Unfortunately, the horrific tragedy in San Diego county reminds us that anti-Semitism is virulently strong,” ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt said.
The Tel Aviv University report also found that anti-Semitism was being promoted actively by government officials in countries on three continents, singling out officials in Venezuela, Turkey, Poland and Ukraine as promoters of hatred of Jews.
Jewish community figures have raised alarms of resurgent anti-Semitism in Europe, where far-right political groups have made gains in elections
The researchers also noted, however, that governments are more and more recognizing the severity of the problem and are taking a wide range of steps to address it.
A light in the darkness
Lighting the traditional torches at Wednesday evening’s ceremony will be six survivors:
Bela Eizenman of Lodz, Poland, who survived the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen camps and, along with three other friends, managed to flee their German captors during a 1945 death march and reach the US Army. Read her story here.
Shaul Lubovitz, whose family was murdered after its hiding place in the Braslav ghetto was discovered. He managed to flee along with several others and the group migrated between hiding places before joining a group of partisans. His wife, Nechama, was killed in a 1995 bus suicide bombing. Read his story here.
Fanny Ben-Ami, whose German family fled to France after Hitler’s rise to power. She joined the resistance and saved the lives of numerous others through her work and by personally smuggling a group into Switzerland. Read her story here.
Menachem Haberman, of the former Czechoslovakia, who survived the Auschwitz and Buchenwald camps and managed to escape a death march to reach liberating US forces in April 1945. Read his story here.
Sara Shapira, whose family was deported from Romania and underwent numerous hardships that claimed the lives of her mother, sister and uncle. She stayed in an orphanage in Mogilev (modern-day Belarus) in dismal conditions for two years. Read her story here.
Yehuda Mimon, who joined an underground pioneer group in the Krakow Ghetto and helped carry out an assault that killed German soldiers. He later survived Auschwitz and fled a death march to reach safety. Read his story here.
Commemorations will also take place among Jewish communities throughout the world.
In Poland, where the Nazis located much of their killing machine, more than 10,000 Jewish and non-Jewish youth from 40 countries will walk from Auschwitz to the Birkenau death camp Thursday as part of the 31st annual International March of the Living
This year’s march includes Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a Poland-born survivor, who used to be Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi. Several American diplomats, including the ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, also will attend, along with the head of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog.
This year’s march is the first since the event’s inception in 1988 that will be preceded by a conference about anti-Semitism for emerging leadership from around the world. During that event, 20 representatives of prominent youth and young adults group will issue “a rallying and defiant call to other youth to commemorate the Holocaust and help put an end to anti-Semitism before history repeats itself,” organizers wrote in a statement about the event.
JTA contributed to this report.