Country Comes to Halt in Honor of Shoah Victims; Ceremonies Held Across Europe

The central wreath-laying ceremony took place at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem with the participation of President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Holocaust Remembrance Day, which began yesterday at 10 A.M. with a two-minute siren during which people stood silently at attention, was marked in ceremonies throughout the country. The central wreath-laying ceremony took place at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem with the participation of President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Peres also took part in the reading out of the names of victims, which was held at the Knesset and at Yad Vashem's Hall of Names. Peres read out the names of 11 of his relatives who were murdered during the Holocaust, including his grandfather, "who walked at the head of the community, wrapped in a prayer shawl, straight to the synagogue, which was set on fire by the Nazis."

Jews at former Nazi death camp of Birkenau - Reuters - May 2, 2011

Netanyahu read out the names of more than 20 relatives of his wife, Sara. Defense Minister Ehud Barak said at the ceremony, "The defense forces ready for the call are the eternal response to the Holocaust. The are the revenge of the victims, they are the hope of us all."

Meanwhile, in Poland yesterday, thousands of young people participated in the annual March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau. This year's march recalled 50 years since the trial of Adolf Eichmann. Shmuel Rosenman, the chairman of March of the Living, said the purpose of the march is to remind Jews and non-Jews what the Holocaust did to the Jewish people and the whole world. The march was led by Rabbi Meir Lau and Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who led the first delegation of its kind to the march, of Justice Ministry personnel.

In a letter to the Justice Ministry staff ahead of the March of the Living, Weinstein wrote: "Lessons should be learned from the Holocaust. The obvious one is the recognition of the importance of the existence of the State of Israel and the protection of its security. What is not obvious is the need to respect and protect human rights, the rights of all people as human beings."

Israel's ambassador to Britain and ambassador-designate to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, also participated in the march.

Another first in yesterday's commemoration ceremonies was the award of a special citation honoring Jews who risked their lives to save fellow Jews during the Holocaust. The award, established by B'nai B'rith and the Committee for Recognizing Jewish Rescuers, was given at a joint ceremony sponsored by a number of commemoration groups and with the participation of the Jewish National Fund. This year it was given by the head of the B'nai B'rith World Center, Alan Shneider, to the six children of Hennie and Yehoshua Birnbaum. The couple saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish orphans whom they took care of during the years of the Holocaust.

The theme for Holocaust Remembrance Day this year was "collecting the fragments," which is also the name of a nationwide drive to encourage people to give papers and objects they have from the period of the Holocaust to Yad Vashem to preserve, document and study.

"Every one of the people murdered - the elderly and children, women and men, had a face and a name," Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said yesterday at the ceremony at Yad Vashem. "The survivors have carefully kept the fragments, the memories and souvenirs that remained in their possession. It is our obligation to build from the fragments of those personal memories a mosaic that will be a commemoration for the generations to come. And so I call on you and every Israeli to join in this important campaign. Anyone who has pictures, journals or letters from the period of the Holocaust can give them to Yad Vashem, where they will be expertly treated and preserved."