Holocaust Day - Olivier Fitoussi - April 18, 2012
Benjamin Netanyahu at Yad Vashem, April 18, 2012. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi
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Holocaust Remembrance Day began Wednesday night at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, in the presence of President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The central theme of this year's commemoration is "My Brother's Keeper - Jewish Solidarity During the Holocaust."

Six survivors of the Holocaust lit the torches representing the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the crowd gathered at Yad Vashem,“Our enemies tried to bury the Jewish future but our future was born again in the land of our forefathers, here we built a base, and a new beginning of freedom, and hope and action.”

Netanyahu went on to say that today’s generation “faces calls to exterminate the Jewish State,” and that lessons of the past must not be forgotten. He focused on Iran, calling it an existential threat to Israel, and to world peace, said "It is the world’s responsibility to stop Iran securing nuclear weapons."

Netanyahu alluded to claims that he has associated the Iran threat with the Holocaust, “I completely reject this attitude,” he said. “To fear telling the truth, which is that there are those today who also seek to destroy millions of Jews, is to disrespect the Holocaust and insult its victims. The Prime Minister of Israel is not only allowed to conjure the memory of a third of our people when speaking of existential threats, it is his duty.”

The ceremony was marred by an accident earlier on Wednesday, when a female Israel Defense Forces officer in her twenties was killed, and at least 5 other officers were injured after a lighting rig collapsed above a stage on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Dozens of people were participating in a rehearsal for an Independence Day ceremony, due to take place next week, when the rig collapsed. One person was moderately injured and four others lightly hurt.

During his speech, President Peres said: "My brothers and sisters, tonight, too, our teary eyes will be cast upon those who are no longer with us. And our wide-open eyes will look toward the future that lies ahead."

During Passover," he added, "I traveled all over Israel. Blue skies. Blooming fields. Beautiful children. Hard-working people. I thought about the communities from whence they came, and that are no longer with us. For a moment I replaced Tel Aviv with Vilna, Haifa with Białystock, Degania, Nahalal, Be'er Sheva with Plonsk, Riga, and Odessa."

"A million and a half non-Jews live in Israel," Peres said in his speech. "We are committed that none of them will be discriminated against due to their nationality or religion. That is the essence of the state of Israel. It is a protecting force, a safe haven, and a great spirit."

"We used to be a question mark; today we are a strong country," Peres said. "Humanity has no choice but to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and stand strong in the face of existential threats, before it is too late."

He added: "Iran is at the center of this threat. It is the center of terror. It constitutes a threat to world peace. There is no room to underestimate Israel's known and hidden capabilities to deal with this threat.