Last updated: 16 April, 2015

Israelis stand in silent tribute to Holocaust dead

Israeli Jews stood in silence as sirens wailed across the country on Thursday marking Holocaust memorial day and 70 years since the liberation of the Nazi death camps.

Traffic came to a halt and pedestrians stood at attention for two minutes as the sirens rang out.

Commemorations began at sunset on Wednesday and were to continue Thursday with Israeli leaders attending official ceremonies at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, parliament and elsewhere.

Until sundown, radio and television stations were to broadcast programmes on the genocide and play sombre music, while places of entertainment were closed.

The theme of this year’s observances — “The Anguish of Liberation and the Return to Life: 70 Years Since the End of World War II” — dealt with the pain of survivors and the challenge of rebuilding shattered lives.

About 189,000 survivors live in Israel today but according to their welfare organisation close to 25 percent struggle financially, despite government assistance.

At opening commemorations for the six million victims on Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compared arch-foe Iran to Hitler’s Germany.

“As the Nazis sought to stamp out civilisation and to set the master race to rule across the earth… while wiping out the Jewish people, so does Iran seek to control the region, spread outwards and destroy the Jewish state,” he said.

Netanyahu misses no opportunity to slam the emerging nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers, which is to be finalised by June 30.

Israel and the West suspect Iran’s civilian nuclear programme is a front for efforts to build a military capability, a charge Tehran denies.

Warning against appeasing “tyrannical regimes,” Netanyahu questioned whether the lessons of World War II had been fully absorbed.

“Has the world really learned from the incomprehensible universal and Jewish tragedy of the previous century?” he asked.

“Democratic governments made a momentous mistake before World War II and we, along with many of our neighbours, are convinced that a bitter mistake has also been made now.”