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Never Again: Israel Marks Holocaust Remembrance Day 2017

April 24, 2017

by: Ilse Posselt

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PM Netanyahu addressing the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day ceremony (Photo Credit: GPO/Haim Zach)

Monday, 24 April 2017 | Sundown last night in Israel ushered in Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The day marks 24 hours dedicated to remembering those who were wrenched away by a fanatical regime determined to exterminate every trace of Jewish life from the face of the earth.

More than 70 years ago, the Nazis and their collaborators set about their mission with fervent zeal and meticulous efficiency. Within a decade, European Jewry had all but disappeared. Collected from urban and rural homes, they were swept into the yawning voids of concentration camps, crematoriums and mass graves. Six million Jews were murdered. Millions more emerged from a living hell to find every shred of their previous lives erased.

The figures are staggering; the timeframe in which they were tallied up ridiculously short. But more than anything, the Holocaust brings with it an overwhelming sense of loss. It is a gaping hole where an entire generation of mothers, fathers, siblings, extended family and friends should have been.

So, as the sun set over the Jewish homeland last night, Israel mourned a generation of loved ones who were lost.

On the eve of Yom HaShoah, sorrow and reverence wrap like a blanket around the hearts of Israel. A hush descends over the usually vibrant city streets as movie theaters, bars and restaurants lock up early. Flags hang half-mast. Israeli radio and television stations take a break from their customary entertainment offerings to make way for shows and songs that help keep the memory alive.

Then, at 9:50 a.m. this morning, all activity in Israel began to grind to a halt. The throng of cars speeding along the main highways slowed to a crawl. One by one, they pulled over to the side of the road. Car doors opened and drivers poured out to stand waiting on now deserted lanes. On every street in every city, from houses and schools and office buildings, Israelis stood to mourn those they lost.

Those who stood in the silent vigil are those who survived. They are the children of victims turned into ash and their children’s children. This has been the tradition in Israel for some 60 years: to stop, to stand, to look up or out at what has been built, while remembering those who were destroyed.

The air raid siren screamed at exactly 10:00 a.m. For two minutes time stopped as all of Israel mourned the shrill horror of their history. It is a loss that resonates in the heart of every Jew because every Jew has been touched by the terrible past in some way.

But the legacy of six million murdered, the inheritance left by this lost generation, is not death or defeat. The legacy passed on to those who survived, to those who came after and lived, is life. It is a legacy of life infused with resolve, fierce joy and grim determination. Woven into the very fabric of Israel today is the knowledge that the Holocaust was one episode—one horrific episode—in a series of similar events. The Nazis were not the first to attempt to wipe out Jews from the face of the earth. Moreover, judging from repeated calls by the likes of Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Islamic State and rising tides of European anti-Semitism, sentiments like those that drove the Nazis are anything but gone.

That is where the motto, “Never Again”, comes from. It is a pledge pouring from the heart of every Israeli, uttered with resolve and grim determination.

It is that responsibility that echoes in the words of Israeli Air Force (IAF) pilots who flew over Auschwitz on the 60th anniversary of its liberation, “We, the pilots of the IAF, flying in the skies above this camp of horrors, arose from the ashes of the millions of victims, and shoulder their muted cries, salute their courage and promise to be the shield of the Jewish people and its land—Israel.”

.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara with the Holocaust survivors who lit the torches in the opening ceremony at Yad Vashem (Photo Credit: GPO / Ashernet)

Last night the people of Israel ushered in this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day with an official ceremony at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other high-level dignitaries attended alongside approximately 2,500 Holocaust survivors. The ceremony began with the flag of Israel being lowered to half-mast while soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) presented arms.

Rivlin took to the stage first. “I am standing here on this dreadful night in Jerusalem, the rebuilt capital of the State of Israel,” the president commented, “and on behalf of our brothers and sisters, the Holocaust survivors who struggled for their existence, their Jewishness and their human image, in their behalf I say, ‘Blessed be Thou for sustaining us and bringing us to this day.’”

For his part, Netanyahu told the audience that the Holocaust was the product of three aspects: a terrible hatred for the Jewish people, international indifference to the plight of the Jews while the horrors were taking place and “the terrible weakness of our people in the Diaspora.”

“The strong survive,” Netanyahu continued, “the weak are wiped out… our people learned this in the Holocaust.” The lesson taught by this terrible time, he continues, “is in front of our eyes at all times. The lesson is that we must be able to defend ourselves, by ourselves, against any threat, against any enemy.”

“This lesson guides me every day—in the morning and at night,” he conceded. “This is the supreme function, not the only one—but the supreme one—of every prime minister in Israel.”

Netanyahu lauded the generations who have built and continue to build Israel to bring about a “great change in the fate of the Jewish people. We replaced the weakness with strength; from a helpless people we turned into a strong nation; from a nation without defense we turned into a state with a defense force, one of the strongest in the world.”

On this solemn day of remembrance and yearning, the people of Israel stand strong in the knowledge that the Jewish people survived. Again. Despite the attempts of fanatic regimes to exterminate every last trace of the Jewish people from the earth, they have survived. Despite the Nazi’s fervent zeal and meticulous efficiency, they have survived.

Am Ysrael Chai! Let it be known across the earth and for all time: even while air raid sirens wail and Jews stand still to mourn, the people of Israel live.

Posted on April 24, 2017

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 24 April 2017)

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