Begun with the solemn lighting of a memorial flame encircled by barbed wire, the observance of Yom Hashoah was observed here this week.
Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, focused here and around the world this year on the 50the anniversary of the liberation of the death camps and the Allied victory over Nazi Germany.
Joining Holocaust survivors and their families at the ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem were President Ezer Weizman, Prime Minister Yitzhak Robin, as well as top governmental, military and diplomatic officials.
Martin Indyk, the recently appointed U.S. ambassador to Israel and the first Jew to hold the position, was also in attendance.
Referring to the 50th anniversary commemorations, Weizman said, “I am grateful to the spirit of history for awarding me the privilege to represent to the entire world the miracle of the revival of the ancient Jewish people in its historical homeland.”
Weizman also spoke of the change that has occurred in Israeli society’s treatment of the survivors of the Holocaust.
“The passage of time has taught us how inane was our question, `How did they let themselves be led to their death like sheep to the slaughter?’
“We, the generation of the War Of Independence, knew no other heroism except in the battlefield. Today, we know and understand that under the circumstances of those years of horror, to get a piece of bread for a child in the ghetto was an act of supreme heroism, unequaled heroism.”
The Israeli president also mentioned the rise of neo-Nazi and neo-fascist groups around the world, and called on Israel to spearhead the struggle against them.
He concluded by calling upon all Jewish children, wherever they live, to come and live in Israel.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin also spoke of events 50 years ago.
“Fifty years have passed since the doors of hell were opened and exposed the great tragedy of the Jewish people,” he said. “In the name of the Jewish people, I want to say today thank you to the Allied nations and their armies, who, although they took too long, did bring about the day of liberation.
“We hail today the fighting of the Allied forces, which included 1.5 million Jewish soldiers, but we have not and will not participate in the circles of dancing.”
“The spark of joy may have darkened a little in our eyes, but not the spark of life and faith. It is this faith that leads us on to days of remembrance and grace, days of triumph and peace,” he said.
RAbin’s speech was followed by the now-traditional lighting of six flames by six Holocaust survivors.
Among the six survivors was former Lt. Col. Yevsei Yehoshua Weintraub, a recent emigre from the Soviet Union who was one of the 157 Jewish officers and soldiers who received the Red Army’s highest award for bravery — the Hero of the Soviet Union medal — for wartime heroism.
Weintraub, who during the war led Soviet troops in liberating concentration camps in Poland and Germany, lit the flame in memory of all the Allied soldiers who fought and fell in the war against the Nazis, and in memory of the Jewish soldiers who helped liberate Europe and the death camps.
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, who was 8 years old when he was liberated from Buchenwald, also addressed the gathering.
“Even today we cannot turn a new leaf if we are asked to forgive,” the rabbi said.
“We have received a will to remember and never to forget, but we have absolutely no permission to forgive or absolve,” said Lau.
The commemorations continued on Thursday as life, as it does every year, came to a standstill a 10 am. siren and two minutes of silence.
Flags flew at half mast, restaurants and places of entertainment were closed, and across the country the 6 million dead were honored in wreath-laying ceremonies.
At the Knesset, government leaders read aloud the names of those who died during the “Every Person has a Name” ceremony.
The ceremony was initiated several years ago by Dov Shilansky, a Holocaust survivor who now serves as deputy speaker of the Knesset.
The ceremony is observed throughout the world. Over 500,000 names were read in 135 cities across America, which is sponsored in the United States by B’nai B’rith.
In Washington, members of Congress read aloud the names of Holocaust survivors from the steps of the Capitol.
The reading was led by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who was joined by Sens. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), the son of survivors, and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.) and Rick Santorum (R-Pa.)
In other ceremonies, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) led a candlelighting ceremony in the Capitol rotunda to honor the victims of the Holocaust and the American military forces who liberated the concentration camps.
Thurmond was at Buchenwald shortly after the liberation.