"This is the proper moment to express to them the
gratitude of the entire nation," Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said,
before six survivors lit memorial torches for the six million Jews
murdered by the Nazis. Netanyahu acknowledged the lack of recognition on
the part of native Israelis for the heroism shown by Holocaust survivors
in the first years of the state. He thanked them for their contribution
to the nation.
"We native born and veteran Israelis did not always
understand and appreciate the enormity of their ordeal, and the
immensity of the heroism that was again demanded of them on arrival
here," said Netanyahu, in a strongly worded opening speech. "This is the
proper moment to put into words the appreciation of the entire nation.
By the very fact of them being here with us, and their work and their
involvement in all areas of activity in the country, they and their
children embody the victory of life over death, the victory of
righteousness over evil.
"And more than anything else, they embody the
victory of the Jewish people and the eternity of Israel, which rose from
amidst the ashes of destruction to start from the beginning and to grow
afresh from what was cut down and uprooted there." Netanyahu's
speech departed from the prepared text, in which he specifically asked
for forgiveness on the part of Israelis for the lack of understanding.
Holocaust Remembrance Day continued through today,
marked by a two-minute siren at 10 a.m., immediately followed by a
wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem. All places of entertainment will
be closed throughout the day.
In keeping with this year's theme - the contribution
of Holocaust survivors to the creation of the State of Israel and their
integration into society - the prime minister heralded the contribution
made by the 250,000 survivors who came to Israel after the Holocaust.
With their help, he said, "we have built up a
beautiful and successful country, in which there are today nearly five
million Jewish people. These people, the surviving remnant of the Jewish
people, went from one struggle to another, from the war for survival to
the war of rebirth.
"The effort of their own personal rehabilitation
brought them face to face with an additional test of heroism - no less
than the test of heroism of the battles and the camps. They asked for
nothing, investing all their efforts and all their strength into
establishing the State of Israel."
Last night's ceremony began with the national flag
being lowered to half-mast, the six flames of remembrance lit by six
survivors in the Warsaw Ghetto Plaza of Yad Vashem, and the Kaddish
recited by Sephardic Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron.
In his address, President Ezer Weizman made an
impassioned appeal for aliya, calling on Jews not to wait for times of
trouble to move to Israel, but to come now. "There is no doubt,"
he said, "that a population of six, seven, eight million Jews
would have a tremendous impact on the country's strength, economy, and