SUNSET SUNDAY, APRIL 23: An Israeli memorial for the 6 million Jewish deaths during the Holocaust is commemorated worldwide as Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Israel, state-sponsored and synagogue ceremonies, moments of silence and a March of the Living all paint the picture of this solemn observance.
Also known as “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day” in English, Yom HaShoah has been defined, in recent decades, as having a scope broader than the millions of deaths at the hands of the Nazis and their allies. Today, those who mark this annual observance also remember the Jewish resistance during that era; they celebrate righteous acts in such dangerous times; and they emphasize the meaning of human dignity. (Learn more from the Jewish Virtual Library.)
Yom HaShoah was inaugurated in Israel in 1953, and by the next decade, a siren of silence filled the country’s streets for several minutes each year on the 27th of Nisan. No public entertainment is permitted on Yom HaShoah, and all radio and television programs focus on the day’s memorial.
In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi signed the proposal for Yom HaShoah, enacting it as law. In Israel, Yom HaShoah is a national memorial day. Flags are flown at half mast; sirens blare in the evening and the following morning; services are held at military bases, in schools and by various organizations. (Wikipedia has details.) Though no specific rituals are carried out on this day, memorial candles and prayers are common.
Each year, one of the major themes associated with Yom HaShoah is the commitment to never forget what happened in this horrific genocide. In the U.S., public schools that once ignored the Holocaust in standard lesson plans—began to include this chapter of history after major public efforts in the 1970s and 1980s. Holocaust memorials, including the national museum in Washington D.C., continued to open. But many who care about this issue are concerned that the message could be fading.
Given an increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents worldwide, over the past year, observances in 2017 take on an increased urgency that these memories continue to motivate actions in defense of human rights.