Politicians, judges, survivors and other dignitaries gathered Thursday at the Knesset in Jerusalem for a Holocaust remembrance ceremony titled “Unto Every Person There is a Name” in which they recited names of victims of the Nazis.
The ceremony’s name comes from a famous poem by the Israeli poet Zelda Schneersohn Mishkovsky (commonly referred to by her first name alone). The musical version, which is often played at memorial ceremonies, repeats, “Unto every person there is a name given by…” and details where that name comes from: “their mother and father,” “their sins,” “their loves,” “their death.”
The IDF rabbinate’s band opened the ceremony in the Knesset’s Chagall Hall by playing the musical version of Zelda’s poem. Afterward, Holocaust survivors Baruch Vind, Masha Wolfsfeld, Haim Koretzky, Sharon Azaria, Tova Abukarat and Chaya Mazuz — the latter four of whom are parents of Knesset members — lit six candles to commemorate the six million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis.
After liturgical readings by the Ashkenazi and Sephardi chief rabbis and a rendition of the prayer “El Maleh Rahamim” (God Full of Compassion) by the IDF cantor Lt. Col. Shai Abramson, Israeli politicians fild up to the stage, one by one, to read the names of Holocaust victims.
For the most part the names the politicians gave were from family members, but some, like President Reuven Rivlin, whose own families escaped Europe before the extermination, read the names of friends’ or — in the case of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — a spouse’s relatives.
Many politicians opted to also speak about the victims, describing their lives before the Holocaust.
Netanyahu discussed his father-in-law, the teacher and writer Shmuel Ben-Artzi, who moved to Israel in 1933 but whose family perished in the Holocaust.
The prime minister read a poem by Ben-Artzi, who died in 2011, called “To Europe, a poem.” Part of the piece reads:
From Europe, left the Torah,
And from Germany, the Gospel;
Killed and strangled, murdered and slaughtered!
Heil Hitler, Heil! — with a raised hand and without fear!
For the “Jude” a bullet’s a waste —
Only poisonous gas in a closed trailer,
And with no spare time —
She buried him alive!
The poem sharply castigates Europe for its silence during the Holocaust.
Though the prime minister often employs the memory of the Holocaust as a warning against Iran’s nuclear ambitions — including in a speech Wednesday night — at the ceremony Netanyahu refrained from mentioning the Islamic Republic.
Yaakov Barzilai, an author and Holocaust survivor, was the last to speak at the ceremony, reading a short story about children finally getting their wish of riding on a train — though to an unspeakable destination.
Earlier, millions of Israelis came to a mournful, two-minute standstill as sirens pierced the air in remembrance of the victims.
As the siren sounded, cars and buses pulled over on the side of highways and roads. Motorists stepped out of their cars and pedestrians stopped in their tracks, bowing their heads as they remembered those who perished. Afterward, ceremonies were held throughout the country.
AP contributed to this report.