Towards the closure of the Hebrew month of Nisan and at the beginning of the following month of Iyar, visitors in Israel get to be acquainted with a series of commemorations and celebrations, all related to the Shoah and to the foundation of the State of Israel. Here is a short guide to help understand Yom Ha-Shoah (יום השואה).
This is the Holocaust Day commemorated in Israel. It has been set since 1953 on the date of 27 Nisan which would have been Sunday 23 April 2017 but, as this day is adjacent to a Shabbat, the commemorations (which always start the eve before) are held on 28 Nisan this year. The date of 27 Nisan was arbitrarily set by the Israeli Government in 1953 because it was initially proposed to coincide with the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto on 14 Nisan, the eve of Passover 1943 (19 April 1943). However it was deemed unsuitable to set such commemoration on a Jewish (religious) holy day. So Yom Ha-Shoah was chosen after the festival of Passover and before the joyful Independence Day (on 5 Iyar, see below). Note that the EU in 1950 then the UN in 2005 have adopted their own Holocaust Memorial Day set on 27 January. Why this date? It is on 27 January 1945 that the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Red Army.
The official name of the commemoration has become the Remembrance Day for Martyrs and Heroes (יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה), so that Israel now commemorates both the victims of the Shoah and its heroes.
The commemorations in Israel take place as follows:
- on the eve of Yom Ha-Shoah, after sunset, the Prime Minister and the President address the nation from Yad Vashem
- during Yom Ha-Shoah, flags across the country are set at half mast; if you open Israeli radios, you will hear special songs being played, and if you open the TV, you will watch programmes about the Holocaust; all places of public entertainment are closed
- on Yom Ha-Shoah at 10:00, sirens are sounded across the country: people are expected to stop all activities (including driving), stand still and observe two minutes of silence
- the closure of Yom Ha-Shoah is commemorated in the Kibbutz called the Ghetto Fighters which was founded in 1949 by Holocaust survivors and the last remains of the Ghetto Fighters who succeeded to escape the Nazis and reached safety in USSR
If you wish to visit sites related to the Holocaust (on any other day), here are the main ones:
- Yad Vashem in Jerusalem: places to visit are the Museum (note: children below 10 are not admitted, photographs are forbidden), the Hall of Names, the Alley of the Righteous among the Nations, the Warsaw Ghetto Square (with statues from Natan Rapoport), Hall of Remembrance, the Children Memorial, the Valley of Communities
- Kibbutz of the Ghetto Fighters on the road Haifa-Acre: museum dedicated to the stories and testimonials of children during the Holocaust
- Kibbutz Yad Mordechai near the Gaza Strip: founded by survivors of the Ghetto Fighters who then fought the Egyptian Army invasion of 1948; the museum is dedicated to the story of "from Shoah to Revival" with a large model of the Warsaw Ghetto, photographs and so on, and about the revival with the founding of the kibbutz and its fight for survival in 1948; also to see there is the water tower that survived the bombing of 1948 and, next to it, a giant statue from Natan Rapoport of Mordechai Anielewicz who was the leader of the ghetto uprising and who died on 8 May 1943 in the final bombing of the last stand in Mila 18 by the Nazis. The kibbutz is named after him and he has become the symbol of modern-day Jewish hero, fighting the Nazis with no hope of winning but with determination to fight them until death.
- the Scroll of Fire, another giant statue by Natan Rapoport in the Martyrs' Forest in Jerusalem Hills: here again, and as it is a topic of focus of this artist, the theme of "from Shoah to Revival" is broadly depicted. This is a beautiful piece of art, set in a beautiful surrounding, that visitors would enjoy to go and see
On the same theme "from Shoah to Revival", visitors in Tel Aviv would easily spot the modern sculpture from artist Yigal Tumarkin because it is set on Rabin Square. Its two triangular pyramids shapes build the Star of David but from a vertical perspective. This gives the concept of the Holocaust (the bottom pyramid ends in its tip) and the Revival (an inverted pyramid with a wider base facing to the upper skies).
I hope this small guide would help you better understand Yom Ha-Shoah.