Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew) is a national day of commemoration in Israel, on which the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust are memorialized.

 Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day 2014

 

Yom Hashoah is a It is a solemn day, beginning at sunset on the 27th of the month of Nisan (April 27, 2014) and ending the following evening, according to the traditional Jewish custom. Places of entertainment are closed and memorial ceremonies are held throughout the country.

The central ceremonies, in the evening and the following morning, are held at Yad Vashem and are broadcast on the television. Marking the start of the day – in the presence of the President of the State of Israel and the Prime Minister, dignitaries, survivors, children of survivors and their families, gather together with the general public to take part in the memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem in which six torches, representing the six million murdered Jews, are lit. 

  • Address by President Shimon Peres
  • Address by Prime Minister Netanyahu

The following morning, the ceremony at Yad Vashem begins with the sounding of a siren for two minutes throughout the entire country. For the duration of the sounding, work is halted, people walking in the streets stop, cars pull off to the side of the road and everybody stands at silent attention in reverence to the victims of the Holocaust. Afterward, the focus of the ceremony at Yad Vashem is the laying of wreaths at the foot of the six torches, by dignitaries and the representatives of survivor groups and institutions. Other sites of remembrance in Israel, such as the Ghetto Fighters’ Kibbutz and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, also host memorial ceremonies, as do schools, military bases, municipalities and places of work.

The central theme for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 2014 is Jews "On the Edge" – 1944: Between Annihilation and Liberation, reflecting the situation of the Jews in 1944 – exactly 70 years ago. The expression "on the edge" is taken from Nathan Alterman’s poem Joy of the Poor, which so aptly expresses the feeling which prevailed that year among the Jews of Europe. While cities from east to west, such as Vilna and Minsk, Warsaw and Riga, Belgrade and Sofia, Paris and Rome, were being liberated from the yoke of Nazi Germany, the Jews of Hungary were sent to Auschwitz, the Lodz and Kovno ghettos were liquidated, the last of their former inmates were deported and murdered, and death marches were initiated from the liberated territories to the heart of what remained of the "Third Reich".

In March 1944, the Germans invaded Hungary and immediately commenced preparations for the swiftest and most organized deportation any Jewish community had ever witnessed: From the middle of May, over 430,000 Jews from Hungary were sent almost exclusively to Auschwitz, where the vast majority was murdered in the space of two months.

In June, the "Auschwitz Protocols" were disseminated around the world. This detailed account, written by Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, two young Jews who managed to escape from the infamous concentration and death camp, exposed for the first time the central role of the camp in the extermination system.

In October, an uprising in Auschwitz was staged by the Sonderkommando, the group of Jewish prisoners tasked with the unspeakable job of handling the bodies of the murdered victims. They blew up one of the gas chambers with the help of explosives smuggled in to them by a group of young Jewish women.

These events are at the heart of the tension between annihilation and liberation, a tension that was literally a question of life and death for the Jews at that time, who were living on the very edge.