JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel opened its Holocaust Remembrance Day with a ceremony during which six Israeli Holocaust survivors lit torches in memory of the six million Jews who died in the Shoah.
The ceremony was held on Sunday night at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his address cited newly released documents from the United Nations showing that the Allies were aware of the Nazis’ systematic extermination of the Jews at least two years earlier than previously known, and that if they had acted on that information at the time could have saved some four million of the Jewish Holocaust victims.
“If the powers in 1942 had acted against the death camps – and all that was needed was repeated bombing of the camps – had they acted then, they could have saved four million Jews and millions of other people,” Netanyahu said. “When terrible crimes were being committed against the Jews, when our brothers and sisters were being sent to the furnaces, the powers knew and they did not act.”
He also named more recent instances where “the world stands idly by and does not prevent genocide,” citing mass murders in Cambodia, Rwanda and Sudan. He also invoked Syria, calling U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to bomb Syrian targets in response to a chemical attack on civilians as a “point of light.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin opened the ceremony by saying that the Holocaust cannot be universalized but it also cannot be the only lens through which we view the rest of the world.
“But there is also a third approach, an approach that we can trust and that stands ready. The Jewish People survived the Shoah and was privileged to witness rebirth. We shall never forget neither one nor the other,” he said.
He added: “We cannot remain silent in face of the horrors being committed far away from us, and certainly those happening just across the border. Maintaining one’s humanity: this is the immense courage bequeathed to us by the victims – and by you, the survivors of the Shoah – in actions for the sake of others, in the cold, in hunger, in the railway carriages, in the crematoria and in the ghettoes.”
The central theme of this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day is: “Restoring Their Identities: The Fate of the Individual During the Holocaust.” Yad Vashem has uploaded a new online exhibition titled “Lasts Letters from the Holocaust: 1942,” presenting a small selection of the final messages written by Jews trapped in Nazi-occupied Europe in 1942 to their loved ones. Some of t hose letters were read at the national ceremony.
The six torchlighters were: Moshe Ha-Elion, Moshe Jakubowitz, Jeannine Sebbane-Bouhanna, Moshe Porat, Max Privler, and Elka Abramovitz. During the ceremony, short videos about each of the torchlighters were shown.