On Monday time stood still in Israel.
For two minutes the sirens sounded, traffic stopped, and heads were bowed in memory of the Six Million martyrs of the Holocaust. Every year Yom HaShoah is marked by public displays of mourning and private recollections of loved ones who perished in occupied Europe.
The theme of Yom HaShoah this year was “bearing witness,” a recognition of the diminishing numbers of Holocaust survivors. About 250,000 of them live in Israel, and 10 percent of that group dies each year.
“We really are the last ones,” said 78-year-old Michal Beer, a Terezin survivor who recited the names of lost relatives during a ceremony at Yad Vashem. “Soon, I will no longer be around.”
Yom HaShoah was observed this year in an atmosphere that recognized the financial plight of many survivors. According to a report released this week by the Holocaust Survivors’ Welfare Fund, nearly a third of the country’s survivor population lives in poverty. “We have a very simple moral obligation that we are not paying attention to,” said Knesset member Colette Avital.
Elderly survivors rallied in Jerusalem on Monday to protest the government’s neglect of their living conditions.
Yitzhak Kagan, above, a Lithuanian-born survivor, walks through an archway of destroyed communities at the Chamber of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Kagan, left, holds up a photograph of his family, which was killed by the Nazis, and another survivor, right, lays a wreath at a Yad Vashem ceremony.