Daily Israel Report

Holocaust Day: Ceremonies and Themes

First Publish: 4/19/2004, 3:00 PM / Last Update: 4/19/2004, 4:59 PM

Close to 7,000 Jewish youth are taking part in the annual March of the Living in Poland today. The three-kilometer march between Birkenau and Auschwitz is a commemoration of the Death Marches the Nazis forced Jews to take along that very route in the 1940's. Thousands of Jews perished in three of these Death Marches during the Holocaust years. The March of the Living, a loud proclamation that "Am Yisrael Chai" - the People of Israel still live - takes place each year on Holocaust Martyrs and Heroes Remembrance Day. Most of the young people taking part in the march will travel from there to Israel to take part in Independence Day festivities. This will enable them to experience first-hand the modern-day rebirth of the Jewish People and see the country that arose on the ashes of the European destruction.

Security for the march is extra tight this year, in light of fears of possible terror attacks. The kitchens of two large hotels in Warsaw were made kosher, and food has been imported from Israel. Justice Minister Tommy Lapid - a Yugoslavian-born Holocaust survivor himself who immigrated to Israel at the age of 16 - is heading an Israeli delegation in Poland.

Holocaust Day commemorations in Israel were marked by a two-minute long silence at 10 AM, during which traffic stopped and people stood at their desks and in the streets in silence. The "Every Person Has a Name" ceremonies featured the reading aloud of the names of Holocaust victims at Yad Vashem and in the Knesset. Ceremonies will be held around the country today, coming to a close with the traditional memorial at Kibbutz Lochamei HaGetaot (Ghetto Fighters) near Nahariya.

Prime Minister Sharon, speaking at the official Yad Vashem memorial last night, warned that Israel will "not let the murderers of today and those of tomorrow hurt our people. Those who dare to do so will be harmed. Our face is turned toward peace, but the defending sword will not be returned to its sheath." President Moshe Katzav said that rising European anti-Semitism could lead to the weakening of democracy, and rebuked the world for "ignoring the genocide of Europe's Jews."

Switzerland's Ambassador to Israel Ernst Iten refused to attend a street-naming ceremony today in honor of a Swiss Righteous Gentile - because of anti-Israel political considerations. The street, located in the northern neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev in area liberated in the Six Day War, was named in memory of Paul Grueninger. A Swiss police commander, he saved more than 3,600 Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis by providing them with false papers enabling them to enter neutral Switzerland. Grueninger took these actions at great personal cost at a time when his country generally closed its doors to Jews. "Unfortunately," the ambassador wrote to Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupoliansky, "the embassy cannot attend a ceremony [for] a street that is not located within the internationally recognized territory of Israel."

The theme of this year's commemorations is the children and grandchildren of survivors. Arutz-7 reported yesterday on the significance of one of these families: Tziporah Ehrenkrantz Levavi, 77, from a Hassidic home in Stry, Poland (eastern Galicia), was the only one to survive from her family of seven. After arriving in Israel in late 1945, she completed her studies, went to a religious kibbutz, married Nachum Levavi - himself a lone survivor - and now has four children, 33 grandchildren, and ten great-grandchildren. She said,
"I don't know why I am counted among those few who survived, I don't know how I merited it. It's a question that occupies me and I don't have an answer. I would rather phrase the question like this: For what purpose did I remain alive? After I was saved, it was clear to me that there would be a purpose/meaning to my life only if it had significance - and this I found in coming to the Land, in the merit that I received to live during the period of the establishment of the State and to live in it, to live on a kibbutz and settle the Land; I merited to build a family and to live for 20 years with my husband Nachum of blessed memory who was a man of great faith, and in G-d's great kindness I merited having children and grandchildren who walk in the path of Torah and Avodah (Torah and Work), just as I had dreamt. 'I thank You, for You answered me, and You were a salvation for me.'"