Leaders Lay Wreaths to Commemorate Holocaust Victims After Sirens Bring Israel to Standstill

All activities across Israel came to a halt at 10 A.M. for two minutes, as sirens sound to commemorate the memory of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during World War II

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Cars stop at the side of the road on one of Israel's main highways as sirens wail in remembrance of six million Jews killed in WWII, on Thursday.
Cars stop at the side of the road on one of Israel's main highways as sirens wail in remembrance of six million Jews killed in WWII, on Thursday.Credit: Hadas Parush

Israel came to a standstill at 10 A.M. Thursday as sirens wailed for two minutes to pay respects to the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II, kick-starting a day of commemoration events.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is one of the most solemn on Israel’s calendar. Restaurants, cafes and entertainment venues shut down early on Wednesday evening, and radio and TV programming was dedicated almost exclusively to documentaries about the Holocaust, interviews with survivors and somber music.

As sirens sounded, pedestrians stood in place, buses stopped on busy streets and cars pulled over on major highways with drivers and passengers standing on the side of the roads with their heads bowed. In homes and businesses, everyday life came to a halt for two minutes as the sires wailed.

Public ceremonies in memory of the victims follow the sirens. Events take place in schools, army bases and communities across the country.

Shortly after the sirens, the names of victims were read aloud at Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center, which began with President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut laying wreaths at the museum.

The main commemoration ceremony takes place at the museum at 1 P.M., while a closing event will be hold with President Herzog at the Ghetto Fighters' House in the northern Israel kibbutz of Lohamei HaGeta'ot, which was founded by Holocaust survivors in 1949.

On Wednesday, the eve of Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett denounced comparisons of "cruel" contemporary events with the systematic murder of European Jewry in WWII.

In a nationwide address from the Yad Vashem center, Bennett that "the Holocaust is an unprecedented event in human history," adding that "Even the most difficult wars today are not the Holocaust and are not comparable to the Holocaust."

Israeli politicians lined up to eulogize the victims of at Wednesday's ceremony in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center, with President Isaac Herzog also addressing the nation. Bundestag President Barbel Bas also attended the ceremony, the first senior German official to mark the commemoration in Israel.

Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when Jews rose up to resist the efforts of the Nazis to liquidate the ghetto and transfer the remaining population to death camps.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also spoke about the heroism of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but noted that "that the two Jewish organizations that fought the Germans did so not as one body but rather as two competing organizations which failed to cooperate amongst themselves. Those two organizations were the Jewish Military Union, that belonged to the right-wing revisionist movement, and the Jewish Fighting Organization, that belonged to the left-wing socialist movement."

"Even during the darkest chapter of Jewish history, during our people's inferno of extermination, the left and the right did not find a way to work together," said Bennett, whose coalition comprised of many political stripes recently lost its majority.

"My brothers and sisters, we cannot, we simply cannot allow the same dangerous gene of factionalism dismantle Israel from within."

The Associated Press and Jonathan Lis contributed to this report.

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