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Foreign military attaches from across the globe toured the Ghetto Fighters House Museum on Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot Wednesday, in an event held to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Before boarding the bus for the western Galilee, the attaches were addressed in Tel Aviv by Brig.-Gen. Yossi Heiman, head of the IDF's Strategic Division, who said that the day's visit was important in light of "the vast anti-Semitism that defined 2009," and the persistence of Holocaust denial throughout the world.
Heiman also cited the growing threat from Iran's nuclear weapons program and the Islamic Republic's "rejection of Israel's right to exist," in addition to the recent theft of the sign at the entrance to Auschwitz, adding "the international community must do more to ensure Holocaust remembrance overcomes denial."
The ceremony began in the sprawling museum's Hall of Names, where the attaches somberly watched as names of some of the 4,720 European Jewish communities eradicated during World War II scrolled across a wall.
The attaches then took part in a candle-lighting ceremony led by Austrian Col. Nikolaus Egger, head of the Association of Military Attaches in Israel, who lit a candle before he read a memorial passage about famed Jewish ghetto fighter Abba Kovner.
The attaches then split off into two groups to tour the museum, the construction of which began in 1949 by members of the kibbutz shortly after they arrived in Israel after World War II.
The museum is the first of its kind built by Holocaust survivors and unlike other Holocaust museums, emphasizes Jewish resistance, survival, and renewal in the nascent state of Israel.
The attaches crowded into the "Home of Testimony," a section of the museum containing videos and archives on the stories of survivors and their families.
In the middle of the hall, attaches from Georgia, Serbia, and the United States Marine Corps could be seen perusing the stories, while representatives from Ghana, Ukraine, and China watched a short film on the founding of the State of Israel as a group of rowdy Israeli schoolchildren clamored in a corridor.
A Ghanian soldier who came to the museum while on leave from his UNIFIL post in Lebanon said that while he hadn't learned much about the Holocaust before, the visit did give him some idea of the scope of the tragedy.
The soldier added that while the tragedies suffered by different nations cannot be compared, those suffered by his ancestors in the slave trade and that of the Jews decimated by Nazi Europe show the depth to which mankind can sink in humiliating and persecuting one another.
US Marine Corps Lt.-Col. Tolan Pica said the museum's stories of heroism reminded him of those he heard as a child from his grandfathers, both of whom served in World War II, including one who served with the Allied forces that liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp in April 1945.
"The focus of the museum on the resistance inspires the living and that's key," Pica said, adding that it reminds those alive today that "those who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it."
Republic of Serbia attaché Col. Sasa Stevanovic echoed Pica's sentiments about the importance of memory and added that the museum made him prouder still of the assistance Tito's Yugoslavia gave Israel during the War of Independence, when it let pre-IAF pilots use airfields in Montenegro as a way station for 60 Spitfire fighters bought from Czechslovakia.
The tour continued with models and descriptions of the final battles before Jewish resistance was extinguished in the Warsaw Ghetto. It ended at an observation point overlooking the shores of northern Israel and the kibbutz founded in the name of Jewish resistance.