The State Opening Ceremony in Warsaw Ghetto Square, Yad Vashem
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11 April 2021
Mere weeks after the Mount of Remembrance cautiously reopened its doors following months of closure in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Holocaust Remembrance Day 2021 was marked by both traditional ceremonies and innovative online programming.
This year's central theme was "Until the Very Last Jew: Eighty Years Since the Onset of Mass Annihilation." The German invasion of the USSR in the summer of 1941 marked the crystallization of the idea of murdering the Jews en masse – the so-called "Final Solution," the systematic annihilation of the Jewish community worldwide. In the wake of the mass shootings of the Jews of the USSR and the annexed territories by specialized Nazi units and local collaborators, extermination camps were established and run, improved technologies for mass murder were implemented, and deportations by train "to the east" from the rest of Europe began. By the end of the war, some six million Jewish men, women and children had been murdered.
The stories of the six Holocaust survivors chosen to light the traditional six traditional torches at the State Opening Ceremony marking Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day 2021 on the night of 7 April reflected this tragic turn in events during WWII. At the event, which was held, in longstanding tradition, in Warsaw Ghetto Square on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, President H.E. Mr. Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu both delivered remarks to the modest audience; Yad Vashem’s Acting Chairman Ronen Plot kindled the Memorial Torch; and Roza Bloch spoke on behalf of the survivors.
"The burden of memory that we carry in our hearts is a sacred duty," said President Rivlin.
"Bearing that burden is no easy task. Our historical memory requires us to continue learning and teaching about the Holocaust. To research without limits and without fear or favor, to know the history in detail, to leave no stone unturned."
The Prime Minister recalled how the COVID-19 pandemic in the past year had so seriously affected Holocaust victims in Israel.
"The power of life that our people embodies was seen by myself and my wife yesterday when we met this year's torchlighters," he said. "Each Holocaust survivor has an incomprehensible story… all of them serve as a mouthpiece for those who did not survive."
During the ceremony, which was broadcast live with simultaneous translation into seven languages including Arabic, songs and narrative pieces were performed by Israeli artists David Daor, Meshi Kleinstein and Dean Miroshnikov. As in past years, the ceremony also featured a traditional memorial service, including the recitation of a chapter from Psalms by Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi David Lau; the Kaddish mourner's prayer by the Rishon LeZion, Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef; and El Maleh Rahamim, the Jewish prayer for the souls of the martyrs, by Cantor Avraham Kirshenbaum.
On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yad Vashem and Tzohar invited the public, as families, to take part in the "Generations Light the Way" initiative by lighting six memorial candles in memory of the six million victims of the Shoah, and reciting the traditional mourner's prayer "El Maleh Rahamim" and/or the poem "Nizkor – Let us Remember" by Holocaust survivor Abba Kovner. President Rivlin was honored to participate in the project at a personal ceremony in his official residence in Jerusalem.
The following morning, after the siren was heard throughout the country at exactly 10am, Israel's President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Knesset, President of the Supreme Court, representatives of survivor and fighter organizations and delegations from throughout the country took part in the Wreath-laying Ceremony in Warsaw Ghetto Square. “Unto Every Person There is a Name” – the annual public recitation of Holocaust victims’ names lest they be forgotten – took place in Yad Vashem's Hall of Remembrance, where the Main Memorial Ceremony was held later on. For the next few hours, special free online lectures and virtual Behind-the-Scenes tours of the World Holocaust Remembrance Center were available to the Hebrew-speaking public.
The day came to its traditional close back in Warsaw Ghetto Square with the Youth Movements Ceremony in the presence of Israel's Minister of Education Yoav Galant. Holocaust survivor Moshe Kaplan, born in Dąbrowica, Poland spoke to the diverse audience on behalf of the survivors and Holocaust survivor Shaul Oren, born in Jaworzno, Poland, lit the Memorial Torch, accompanied by youth movement members.
Yad Vashem Online
Yad Vashem created special mini-sites dedicated to Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day containing information about the events and ceremonies taking place throughout the day, as well as relevant educational materials.
A new online exhibition entitled “The Onset of Mass Murder: The Fate of Jewish Families in 1941” was launched on the Yad Vashem website. Using photographs, documentation and testimonies from Yad Vashem's unrivalled collections, the exhibition tells the stories of the Jewish families in the wake of Operation Barbarossa, and their ultimate fate in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Eastern Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania and Yugoslavia.
"Designing Memory": Winning Poster 2021
The winning entry for this year's national competition to design the official poster for Holocaust Remembrance Day was Vlada Shimanovsky, 33, granddaughter of Holocaust survivor Nussin Dayan z"l, Her artistic use of the phrase "Until the Very Last Jew" in Hebrew conveys the fading of images and memory over the course of time. The letters extend downwards, becoming dense lines simulating a fence, a forest of tall trees, or a barcode. This is reminiscent of the various ways the extermination was carried out, until it reached its final stage – industrial murder in the death camps. The visual minimalism of the poster and its characteristics reflect the difficulty in verbally describing the story of the Holocaust, and the challenge of preserving its memory for future generations.