Washington, April 16 - Holocaust Rememberance Day, known in Hebrew as “Yom HaShoah,” falls on Thursday (April 19) this year. The day commemorates the Nazi regime’s killing of an estimated six million Jews and five million other people during World War II. The specific date is chosen to time with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, corresponding to the Hebrew calendar.
Jews and others frequently use the term Shoah, Hebrew for “catastrophe,” to refer to the Holocaust. After the start of World War II, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler created forced-labor and death camps throughout Europe to execute the “final solution of the Jewish question.” The Nazis persecuted other groups they deemed racially “inferior,” including Gypsies, the physically and mentally disabled, gays and lesbians, Soviet prisoners of war, Poles, communists and numerous minority groups. The Nazi regime initially constructed forced-labor camps to imprison the Jewish people, but as early as 1941 built extermination camps designed solely for the quick and efficient mass murder of Jewish and other people.
As the number of Holocaust survivors diminishes - 12,000 reportedly died in the last year - Israel strives to keep the memories relevant and promote public education about the Holocaust. In 1953, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion signed a law that designated Yom HaShoah to be commemorated on the 27th day of the month of Nisan in the Jewish calendar. Every year on that day since, a siren sounds at 10:00 a.m. on Yom HaShoah, announcing a two-minute moment of silence when Israelis halt their activities – drivers even stop and get out of their cars – to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.
This year’s Yom HaShoah commemoration comes as Israel and major Western powers continue to confront the threat of Iran’s suspected nuclear program. Iranian negotiators began talks in Istanbul on Saturday with representatives of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany (P5+1) over their efforts to attain nuclear material that has sparked rounds of punishing international sanctions.
"I want to remind everyone of the main lesson of the Holocaust against our people - that ultimately when there is threat to our existence, we must not leave our fate in the hands of others," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January this year. "When it is a question of our fate, it is our obligation to rely only on ourselves."
The U.S. Congress also has designated the week of April 15-22 as the national Days of Remembrance when national, state and local governments, houses of worship and other institutions across the country honor those who perished in the Holocaust. As in past years, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will coordinate a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda in Washington during that time.