Sirens blared across Israel early Thursday as the country came to a standstill in an annual ritual honoring the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust.
People halted where they were walking, and drivers stopped their cars to get out of the vehicles as people bowed their heads in memory of the victims of the Nazi genocide. Ceremonies were planned throughout the day at Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, parliament and elsewhere.
Israel was founded in 1948 as a sanctuary for Jews in the wake of the Holocaust. About 165,000 survivors live in Israel, a dwindling population that is widely honored but struggling with poverty.
Israel makes great effort to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust and make heroes of those who survived. Restaurants and places of entertainment remain closed on Holocaust memorial day, radios play somber music and TV stations devote their programming to documentaries and other Holocaust-related material..
For them, challenges loom. This year’s ceremony comes as Israel and much of the world emerges from the coronavirus pandemic, which confronted Holocaust survivors in particular with increased health risks as well as widespread loneliness and despair.
Additionally, about a third of Israel’s Holocaust survivors live below the poverty line, with many sustained by government stipends and donations, according to a group that represents survivors.
Despite their experience and widespread education programs, antisemitism rose worldwide during the pandemic, according to a report released Wednesday.
In addition to speeches by Bennett, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and others, Wednesday’s ceremony featured survivors lighting six torches — for the 6 million murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. The speaker of Germany’s parliament, Baerbel Bas, also attended as a special guest.