netanyahu dignitaries yad vashem 248.88.
(photo credit: Channel 10)
The State of Israel paused on Monday night at 8 p.m. to remember the six million Jews who perished from 1933-1945, as the nation marked the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The state ceremony ushering-in the 24-hour commemoration began after sunset at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in the capital.
The solemn hour-and-a-quarter opening event, broadcast live on television and radio, was attended by President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Tel Aviv Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, a Buchenwald survivor and the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, as well as scores of ambassadors and dignitaries from around the world.
In his speech, Peres said that the appearance of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the Geneva Durban review conference hours earlier was "a deplorable disgrace."
"The conference opening today in Geneva constitutes an acceptance of racism, rather than the fight against it, and its main speaker is Ahmadinejad, who calls for the annihilation of Israel and denies the Holocaust," Peres said.
"Criticism of the Jewish state is also tinged with chilling anti-Semitism. Among those who collaborated with the Nazis, and those who stood by and let the Holocaust happen, there are those who criticize the one state that rose to grant refuge to Holocaust survivors. The one state that will prevent another Holocaust.
"Anti-Semitism is not a Jewish disease, and its cure is incumbent upon those who perpetrate it," the president said.
"We have learned that our spiritual heritage is dependent on physical security. A people which lost a third of its members, a third of its children to the Holocaust, does not forget, and must not be caught off-guard," Peres said.
Netanyahu, speaking after Peres, also mentioned the Geneva conference, lamenting that "there are those who chose to participate in the display of hate."
The prime minister directed a question at Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, who met with Ahmadinejad in Geneva on Sunday. "I turn to you, the Swiss president, and ask you: How can you meet someone who denies the Holocaust and wishes for a new holocaust to occur?"
Netanyahu praised "important countries" that chose to distance themselves from the conference, mentioning the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Australia and New Zealand.
"We will not let the Holocaust deniers perpetrate another holocaust on the Jewish people," he said. "This is the highest responsibility of the State of Israel and of myself as prime minister."
"Israel is the shield and the hope of the Jewish People. Here we create for the glory of our people and all of mankind. The country's achievements in every field - culture and science, medicine and security - are groundbreaking. We are a nation small in number but of great fortitude," Netanyahu said.
Recalling his experiences as an orphan in the Buchenwald concentration camp, Lau cited "another child sitting in the dark, Gilad Schalit," who has been held in the Gaza Strip since June 2006.
"Yad Vashem decided to dedicate this year's ceremony to children in the Holocaust, so that Israel's children might appreciate what we have: A national home. A state. Freedom. Sovereignty. Pride. Backbone.
"We can and should kiss this country's ground, which enables to live a full life with a Jewish identity in our home," the rabbi said.
Some 1.5 million Jewish children were killed by the Nazis.
During the ceremony, which included speeches and somber musical interludes, six torches were lit by survivors in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The chief rabbis of Israel, Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger, recited Psalms and the Kaddish mourning prayer.
All places of entertainment closed on Monday night.
Etgar Lefkovits contributed to this report.