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Israel marks Holocaust day

Israel used the solemn occasion of Monday's annual Holocaust memorial day to call on the world to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and to draw new attention to the plight of the dwindling number of survivors.
Jews across Israel, including these at a market in Jerusalem, pause during a two-minute siren in memory of victims of the Holocaust on Monday.BERNAT ARMANGUE / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Israel used the solemn occasion of Monday's annual Holocaust memorial day to call on the world to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and to draw new attention to the plight of the dwindling number of survivors.

The wail of air raid sirens pierced the air for two minutes as the country came to a standstill in a yearly ritual remembering the 6 million Jews who perished in World War II. People stood at attention and traffic halted during the moment of silence, as radio stations played mournful music throughout the day.

At Auschwitz, Poland, thousands of young Jews along with Holocaust survivors marched Monday to remember those who perished in the Nazi death camp, and to honor Poland's late president.

The 10,000 or so people from around the world attending the annual March of the Living walked the stretch of about 2 miles between the red-brick Auschwitz compound and the death camp's wooden barracks section of Birkenau.

Israel was built on the ashes of the Holocaust, and preserving the memory of the Nazi genocide plays a central role in the country's identity.

At the memorial's opening ceremony late Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to draw parallels to the rise of Nazi Germany and the development of Iran's nuclear program.

Israel, like the West, believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and Netanyahu derided the world's response to curbing Tehran's atomic ambitions as limp.

"If we have learned anything from the Holocaust, it is that we must not be silent or be deterred in the face of evil," Netanyahu said.

Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat, underscored by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated references to the Jewish state's destruction and Tehran's support for anti-Israeli militant groups. Israel has hinted at taking military action against Iran if diplomacy fails.

The Yad Vashem memorial authority picked "Voices of the Survivors" as the theme of this year's commemoration. Sixty-five years after World War II, about 207,000 aging survivors, many of them destitute and alone, live in Israel, down 63,000 from just two years earlier.

In Jerusalem, Yad Vashem opened a new art exhibit on Monday displaying works by survivors.

Among the collection was a painting by Shoshana Noyman, 78, who lost her father and sister during a six-week death march in Ukraine. The painting shows a bearded man, eyes closed with exhaustion, carrying a young girl on his shoulders. She said her father dropped dead of exhaustion at the end of the march, while her sister died from typhus.

Slideshow  14 photos

For many patients at the Shaar Menashe Mental Health Center in Israel the legacy of the Holocaust is still being experienced. Click "Launch" to see and read the story.

"I have no pictures of my family. I drew this from memory. This is how I remember them," said Noyman, who was forced to stand guard by her sister's body for more than a week before it could be removed.

At the Israeli parliament on Monday, Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, other officials and survivors read names of loved ones who perished.

Peres recited the names of his family members killed "with 2,060 of their community members in the town of Vishneva in August 1942," saying the "Nazis and their accomplices assembled the town's residents in the synagogue that was made of wood and cruelly shot and burned them to death."

The reading is an annual rite known as "Every Person Has a Name" that tries to break down the 6 million number into stories of individuals, families and communities wiped out during the war. Memorial ceremonies were also held at schools and military bases, while restaurants, cafes and theaters were closed.

The front page of the Yediot Ahronot daily carried a black-and-white photo of a bearded Polish Jew, wrapped in a prayer shawl, kneeling before two Nazi soldiers, his arms raised, fists clenched, before he was executed.

The man was the maternal grandfather of Meir Dagan, chief of the Mossad spy agency, who told the newspaper: "I see that photo every day and vow that something like that will not happen again."

The Simon Wiesenthal Center on Monday praised Germany for bringing accused Nazi war criminals John Demanjuk and Heinrich Boere to trial over the past year, but said a "lack of political will" continues to be the major obstacle to punishing others, particularly in post-Communist Eastern Europe.

The center singled out Hungary's failure to try Sandor Kepiro, whom it accuses of organizing the mass murder of at least 1,200 civilians in Serbia in 1942.