The mournful wail of air raid sirens pierced the air on Monday and the country came to a standstill as Israel, built on the ashes of the Nazi Holocaust, remembered the 6 million Jews who perished during the dark days of World War II.
Looming over Israel's annual memorial for the Holocaust dead was the country's fear that the world would wake up too late to eliminate the threat of Iran's nuclear program, just as it woke up too late to eliminate the threat of Adolf Hitler.
Melancholy music floated over the airwaves and tales of the fast-dwindling number of Holocaust survivors dominated the media as the world's largest survivor community mourned the dead. During the two-minute siren, an annual ritual heard across Israel, drivers switched off their engines and people put aside their daily activities to stand at attention.
The front page of the Yediot Ahronot daily carried a black-and-white photo of a bearded Jewish Pole, wrapped in a prayer shawl, kneeling before two Nazi soldiers, his arms raised, fists clenched, before he was executed.
The man was the maternal grandfather of Meir Dagan, chief of the Mossad spy agency, who told the newspaper: "I see that photo every day and vow that a thing like that will not happen again."
Sixty five years after the end of World War II, about 207,000 aging survivors, many of them destitute and alone, live in Israel, down 63,000 from just two years earlier. The Jewish state is home to the largest survivor community.
Yad Vashem, Israel's state Holocaust memorial authority, picked "Voices of the Survivors" as the theme of this year's commemoration, which began Sunday night with a state ceremony and continues through Monday evening.
"The voice of the survivors is the link that binds the painful and tormented history of the Jewish people during the Holocaust to the future, to hope and to rebirth," Yad Vashem said on its Web site.
President Barack Obama issued a statement Sunday honoring the memory of "those who endured the horrors" of the Nazi atrocities of World War II and calling on all people to prevent genocide and "confront anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms."
At the Israeli parliament on Monday, people read the names of Holocaust victims under the "Every Person Has a Name" project, which is meant to break down the number of 6 million into stories of individuals, families and communities wiped out during the war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres, Cabinet ministers, lawmakers and survivors read names of loved ones who were murdered.
At Yad Vashem, Israeli leaders, survivors and others laid wreaths at the monument to the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, the largest Jewish insurgency during the Holocaust, ultimately crushed by the Germans.
The annual remembrance is one of the most solemn on Israel's calendar. Restaurants, cafes and places of entertainment shut down, and radio and TV programming is dedicated almost exclusively to documentaries about the Holocaust, interviews with survivors, discussions about the significance of the genocide and lessons for the future.
At the opening ceremony Sunday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained bitterly about the world's reaction to Iran's nuclear program. Like the West, Israel is convinced Iran is trying to build atomic weapons.
"We encounter in the best case a limp reaction, and even that is fading," Netanyahu said at Yad Vashem, before hundreds of Holocaust survivors and their families, Israeli leaders, diplomats and others.
"If we have learned anything from the Holocaust, it is that we must not be silent or be deterred in the face of evil," he added.
Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat, particularly in light of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated references to the Jewish state's destruction and Iran's support for Israel's bitterest enemies.
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