Israel's official Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony opened on Monday night at the Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem. Senior politicians, judges and rabbis took the stage.
The event focused on the stories of several survivors who had lived through the Holocaust as children. One recalled her final moments with her mother and her years in hiding with a Christian family, while another spoke of her family's trek across Romania with thousands of others, few of whom survived.
President of Israel Shimon Peres greets twin sisters Yehudit Barnea and Lia Huber who were tortured as young girls in the medical experiments performed on humans by Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele. The twins related their story at the official state Holocaust ceremony Monday evening and were honored with the kindling of one of six torches for the 6 million Jews massacred by Germany.
Israel news photo: Yosef Avi Yair Engel
President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke at the ceremony, recalling the Holocaust and tying it to current events.
"Nazism was defeated, but anti-Semitism still lives. The gases evaporated, but the poisons remained,” Peres said. “There are still Holocaust deniers, skinheads and hotheads, filled with a deep hatred, ready to kill in the name of racial supremacy.
At Holocaust Day opening ceremony: Violinist David Strongin (left), playing the violin that belonged to young partisan Motteleh Schlein, and violinists Michael Feigin (center) and Mark Karlinsky perform "Eli Eli Lama Azavtani", a melody from Psalms Chapter 22
Israel news photo: YadVashem.org
"Anti-Semitism is a disease.... It's hard to understand why the greatest tyrants, such as the Nazi Hitler, the Bolshevik Stalin, or the Persian Ahmadinejad chose Jews as the target of their hatred, their insanity, their violence,” Peres continued.
“It could be their hatred for the Jewish people is because of our powerful spirit. Those who seek to break our spirit are themselves broken,” he concluded.
IDF soldiers stand at attention during the ceremony
After Peres, Netanyahu spoke, quoting from the Passover Haggadah: “In every generation, they rise up to destroy us.”
Netanyahu was direct in his criticism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has vowed to “wipe Israel off the map.” Directing himself to Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, who met with Ahmadinejad despite Israeli pleas not to grant Ahmadinjad legitimacy, Netanyahu asked “How can you, as the head of a enlightened country, meet with a Holocaust denier, or with someone who plans another Holocaust?”
Netanyahu thanked those countries that refused to attend the Durban II conference at which Ahmadinejad spoke Monday, and those who left the hall during Ahmadinejad's speech.
"We will not allow Holocaust deniers to perpetrate another Holocaust on the Jewish people,” Netanyahu said. “That is our utmost responsibility as the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu turned to the Holocaust survivors who were present, and promised that the government will do what it can to assist them and their fellow survivors.
Recalling Bravery, Struggle
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi spoke at a memorial service at Yad Vashem earlier in the day.
"We come here together, at the top of this mountain, at the 'Yad Veshem' museum in Jerusalem, the place of memory and commemoration of the greatest atrocity humanity has even known, in order to tell the story of the bravery and great struggle of the youth during the Holocaust," Ashkenazi began.
IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi (left) with General Staff on a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum earlier Monday.
"This time, between Passover and Independence Day, brings us back every year to our history books, to the amazing stories of those teenagers, some between the ages 18-19 and some even younger, who rebelled against the Nazis and their helpers. Those who were taken from us, who fought and carried the miracle of the rebellion with them, even after their houses were destroyed, their families were annihilated and the destruction around them was too great for anyone to bear.
"These people, who aspired to fight courageously for their "three sentences in the history book", ensured that the Jewish fighter was not a forgotten motif, but a concrete fact."
Ashkenazi went on to praise Israeli youth who volunteer in youth groups and elsewhere, and those who recently served in Gaza. Such youth are a testimony to the Jewish youth who fought the Nazis, he said.