By Ian Deitch / Associated Press
JERUSALEM – Israel came to a standstill for two mournful minutes Monday as sirens pierced the air in an annual ritual to remember the 6 million Jews systematically murdered by German Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust in WWII.
Commemorations were being held around the country as Israel marked its annual Holocaust memorial day. The main wreath laying ceremony took place at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem. Visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres were among officials and Holocaust survivors in attendance.
“I am the only one who stayed alive–survived–from all my family, about 100 people,” said Zvi Shofet, a Holocaust survivor who participated in the ceremony.
When the sirens went off at 10 a.m., Israelis stopped what they were doing and stood in silence with their heads bowed. Traffic froze as drivers stopped their cars and stepped outside in a sign of respect.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked worldwide on Jan. 27, the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Israel’s annual Holocaust memorial day coincides with the Hebrew date of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
This year’s commemoration marked the 70-year anniversary of the ghetto uprising, a symbol of Jewish resistance against the Nazis in World War II that resonates deeply in Israel to this day.
The 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising was the first large-scale rebellion against the Nazis in Europe and the single greatest act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Though guaranteed to fail, it became a symbol of struggle against impossible conditions, and inspired other acts of uprising and underground resistance.
Holocaust memorial day is one of the most solemn on Israel’s calendar. Restaurants, cafes, and places of entertainment are shut down; radio and TV programming are dedicated almost exclusively to documentaries about the Holocaust, interviews with survivors, and somber music.