A siren brought Israel to a standstill on Monday morning and a violinist in Philadelphia on Sunday let listeners reflect on the loss of life more than 70 years ago as Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, was commemorated here and abroad.
Pennsylvania state legislators, Holocaust survivors, musicians and clergy were among those who gave speeches, led readings, performed songs and recited prayers to honor the victims of the Holocaust near the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs at 16th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
Pennsylvania State Sen. Anthony H. Williams and State Rep. Brendan F. Boyle served as keynote speakers for the event. The legislators, neither of whom is Jewish, are co-sponsors of recently introduced legislation to mandate Holocaust and genocide education for all students from sixth through 12th grade.
Williams said that he felt commonalities between his ancestors’ experiences in slavery and that of Jews during the Holocaust. He addressed the anti-Semitism that exists today and said that “what I am beginning to see on college campuses” and elsewhere scares him.
“If you travel into Europe and say that you are Jewish, you can actually be assaulted, not just verbally, but physically,” Williams said.
He then tried to lead a “never again” call and response chant, but listeners failed to pick up on what he was trying to do. He told the audience that he was a Baptist and gave more explicit instructions, then in a powerful voice led the chant, ending with, “Next year in Israel, my friends.”
Throughout Israel, a siren sounded for two minutes in memory of the victims of the Holocaust Monday morning.
Following the siren, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Yad Vashem Hall of Remembrance as part of Yom Hashoah.
Kerry then joined Israeli President Shimon Peres for the “Unto Every Person There is a Name” ceremony held each year at the Knesset, where Peres read out the names of his relatives who were victims of the Holocaust. Names of Shoah victims also were read by notables in religion and government, among others.
Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday night at the national Yom Hashoah ceremony at Yad Vashem that the hatred of Jews is still strong more than 70 years after the Holocaust began.
"The map of Europe still contains local stains of anti-Semitism," Peres said at Sunday night's ceremony in Jerusalem, his voice breaking with emotion. "Racism erupted on that land in the last century and dragged it down to its lowest point."
"Not all the flames have been extinguished. Crises are once again exploited to form Nazi parties, ridiculous but dangerous. Sickening anti-Semitic cartoons are published allegedly in the name of press freedom."
Netanyahu said in his address to Holocaust survivors and their families, "Hatred of Jews has not disappeared. It has been replaced with a hatred of the Jewish state."
Material from JTA was used in this report.