Israel honors 6 million victims of Nazi Holocaust (AP) Associated Press) By ARON HELLER JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 04/19/12 12:50 pm ET)
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JERUSALEM – Israelis flocked to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial
Thursday to read the names of loved ones who perished at the hands of
the Nazis during World War II, a rite that has become a centerpiece
of the country´s annual commemoration for the 6 million Jews killed
in the genocide.
The ceremony, known as "Every Person Has a Name," tries to go beyond
the huge numbers to personalize the stories of individuals, families
and communities destroyed during the war.
Zvi Shefet, an 87-year-old survivor, carried a list of 48 names,
including those of his parents, his lone sister, his grandparents,
uncles, aunts and cousins. Having fled to the countryside, he
remained not only the lone survivor of his family but also one of the
few Jews to escape from the village of Slonim — then part of Poland,
today in Belarus — where Nazi troops massacred nearly 30,000 Jews and
dumped their bodies into open pits.
"These people have no grave, no tombstone. Their names are written
nowhere," said Shefet, who later migrated to Israel and now has three
children and eight grandchildren. "When I go to Yad Vashem, it is
like I am going to the cemetery, to remember my family but also my
community — all those who died and have no one left behind to even
remember them or commemorate them."
Israel came to a standstill Thursday morning to honor the victims
when sirens wailed for two-minutes across the country. Pedestrians
stood in place, buses stopped on busy streets and cars pulled over on
major highways — their drivers standing on the roads with their heads
In homes and businesses, people stopped what they were doing to pay
homage to the victims of the Nazi genocide, in which a third of world
Jewry was annihilated.
A wreath laying ceremony at Yad Vashem followed, with Israeli leaders
and Holocaust survivors in attendance. Other ceremonies, prayers and
musical performances took place in schools, community centers and
The annual remembrance is one of the most solemn on Israel´s
calendar. Restaurants, cafes and places of entertainment shut down,
and radio and TV programming were dedicated almost exclusively to
documentaries about the Holocaust, interviews with survivors and
somber music. The Israeli flag flew at half staff.
A public reading of names also took place at Israel´s parliament,
where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders recited
names of relatives who were killed.
At the opening state ceremony Wednesday night at Yad Vashem, Israeli
leaders linked the Nazi genocide to Iran´s suspected drive to acquire
nuclear arms and urged the world to stop it.
"Those who dismiss the Iranian threat as a whim or an exaggeration
haven´t learned a thing from the Holocaust," said Netanyahu, who has
been criticized by some in Israel for making the connection.
Iranian leaders have repeatedly made references to the destruction of
Iran denies its objective is to build nuclear bombs. Many in Israel
believe that even if it does, a comparison to Nazi death camps,
gas "showers" and crematoria is unwarranted.
"The question is whether additional speeches laden with pathos and
cliches, and whether the airing of hollow threats will serve the
shared goal of disarming Iran of nuclear weapons?" wrote columnist
Ben Caspit in the Israeli Maariv daily, asking, "Isn´t it a bit
excessive to compare Tehran´s threats of war to the Nazi
extermination machine, the theories about racial superiority, the
creation of a murder machine that was unprecedented in the history of
humankind that not only exterminated 6 million Jews but dragged the
entire world into the flames?"
The link drawn between the Holocaust and Iran shows how more than six
decades later, the mass murder of Jews during World War II is still a
central part of Israel´s psyche. The nation was created just three
years after the end of the war, and hundreds of thousands of
survivors made their way to Israel.
One of those was Shefet, who joined the Polish resistance movement,
met his future wife, then sailed with her to Israel.
Today, they are among fewer than 200,000 elderly survivors in Israel.
(© 2012 The Associated Press 04/19/12)
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