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The State of Israel will pause Sunday night in memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their helpers, as well as those who rose up in revolt against the Nazi barbarism, marking the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The annual state ceremony, which will begin at 8 p.m. at Yad Vashem, is expected to be boycotted by the Vatican Ambassador to the Holy Land Monsignor Antonio Franco, following a very public bitter quarrel over a caption at the Holocaust Museum that highlights Pope Pius XII's silence over the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust.
The solemn hour-long opening event, which will be broadcast live on national television channels and radio, will be attended by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Acting President Dalia Itzik, as well as scores of dignitaries and ambassadors from around the world.
The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority said this would mark the first time in which a foreign emissary deliberately skipped the ceremony.
Yad Vashem officials said over the weekend that it might be worthwhile for the Vatican ambassador to do some soul-searching over whether he wants to use the memory of the Holocaust and its victims in this way.
The Foreign Ministry said that, "The state ceremony at Yad Vashem is designed to honor the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, the most traumatic event in Jewish history and one of the most traumatic events in human history. As for participation in the ceremony, each person invited must act according to their own conscience."
The New York-based Anti Defamation League on Friday called the decision by the Vatican ambassador "inappropriate and insulting," and repeated its longstanding call for the Vatican to open its wartime archives so that the facts concerning the actions of Pope Pius XII may finally be brought to light.
"While we understand Monsignor Franco's displeasure about the photo caption, his decision to boycott the entire Holocaust Memorial Day ceremonies is unnecessarily insulting and unbecoming," said Abe Foxman, the national director of the ADL and a Holocaust survivor.
"The photo caption may be inappropriate and too judgmental, but it does not justify the Vatican's refusal to participate in Israel's national observation of Holocaust Memorial Day," he said. "Without the public release and analysis of the Vatican's wartime archives, the questions about Pope Pius XII will remain unresolved."
The central theme of this year's ceremony - at a time when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust a "myth" and has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map - is "Bearing witness."
During the ceremony, six torches will be lit by Holocaust survivors in memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. The chief rabbis of Israel will recite both a selection from Psalms as well as the Kaddish, the traditional prayer for the dead.
Illuminating the memory of the six million who perished
All places of entertainment will be closed on Sunday night.
A separate Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony with the participation of the last surviving eyewitnesses from the Eichmann trial, as well as the Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, will take place Sunday at the Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust in Kibbutz Tel Yitzhak.
On Monday a two-minute siren will sound at 10 a.m. at the start of a series of day-long ceremonies throughout the nation.
The official state wreath-laying ceremony will take place just after the siren is sounded Monday at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial at Yad Vashem in the presence of Olmert and other VIPs.
The "Unto Every Person There is a Name" ceremony will follow - in which Holocaust victims' names are read out - at both the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem and the Knesset.
Approximately 250,000 Holocaust survivors are thought to be living in the country, about one-third of them in poverty, recent welfare reports have found.
A pensioners' rights group has called for a boycott of official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremonies in protest over the government's failure to meet the needs of Holocaust survivors who are living in poverty, and called on people to attend an alternative ceremony opposite the Knesset on Monday.
At a solidarity event for Holocaust survivors in Tel-Aviv Saturday night, MK Colette Avital (Labor) estimated that $80 million per year is needed to meet the basic needs of the 80,000 Holocaust survivors who live in poverty. Half of the necessary funding for the care of Holocaust survivors is provided by the Claims Conference, and the rest of the funding must come from the Treasury, she said.
Separately, the Bnai Brith World Center in Jerusalem and the Jewish National Fund will hold a joint Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony on Monday commemorating the heroism of "hundreds or even thousands" of Jews who rescued their fellow Jews during the Holocaust, the organizations announced over the weekend.
More than 21,000 non-Jews have been recognized as "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem.
Amir Mizroch and Mark Weiss contributed to this report.
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