Tuesday, April 25, 2006

"The World Must Not Ignore Calls for the Destruction of the State of Israel"

The world must not ignore current calls for the destruction of the state of Israel, Israeli President Moshe Katsav said Monday at the opening ceremony for the country's annual memorial day for the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust.

Without mentioning Iran by name, Katsav said, "I call on the Western world not to stand silently in the face of the nations that are trying to acquire nuclear weapons and preach for the destruction of the state of Israel."

Iran's president has called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth, and Iran is widely believed to be trying to manufacture atomic bombs.

The ceremony, at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem, included dramatic readings and musical presentations.

In a brief address, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would always carry the memory of the murder of millions of Jews.

Speaking from a podium, an honor guard of Israeli soldiers standing at parade rest next to him, Olmert said, "Israel has the ability to defend itself, but it calls on the civilized world to guard the light and the liberty, to defend the values of justice and the dignity of man."

Though six decades have passed, the Holocaust continues to be a central part of Israel's culture. About 280,000 survivors of the Holocaust live in Israel today, according to researchers.

On Tuesday, air raid sirens will sound midmorning, signaling a two-minute period of silence in memory of the victims, when cars stop on the streets and drivers stand respectfully next to them. At the Israeli parliament and other locations around the country, volunteers will read the names of the victims, a way of dealing with the concept of the overwhelming number of people who were put to death.

Restaurants, movie theaters and other places of entertainment were to be closed throughout the day.

The ceremony Monday evening began with lowering the Israeli flag to half staff in a sign of mourning.

Hundreds of people sat quietly in the outdoor plaza of Yad Vashem on a cool, windy Jerusalem night, groups of soldiers in uniform next to Holocaust survivors and their families, and a few tourists listening to translations of the Hebrew proceedings on earphone receivers.

Six Holocaust survivors briefly told their stories and lit ceremonial torches in memory of the victims.

"In another generation, no survivors will be left as witnesses to the horror of the Holocaust, only the timeless records," Katsav said, appealing for renewed efforts to ensure the memory. "We must see to it that every generation feels that it was rescued from the fires of the Holocaust," he said, paraphrasing a central concept of the just-finished Jewish holiday of Passover, which marks the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt.


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