Over the period of 1939-1945, about six million Jews were murdered by the Nazi Germans and their accomplices from among other nations, most in Europe, and some in North Africa. In those days of persecution and genocide, many Jews put up various forms of resistance: from hiding, smuggling food, observing Jewish customs, engaging in underground Zionist activity, to armed rebellion against the oppressors, hence the expression: “Holocaust and Heroism.”
> The Story
While the Holocaust was still under way, but mainly in the first years that followed, Jews in the Land of Israel and around the world sought ways to commemorate their fellow Jews and relatives who perished. There were those, mainly among religious communities, who connected the memory of the Holocaust to days of fasting commemorating previous calamities in the history of the Jewish People: Tenth of Tevet (Asarah BeTevet), “general kaddish day” marking the siege of Jerusalem by the Babylonians or Tisha B'Av (lit. “ninth of Av”) which according to tradition is the day on which the destruction of both the first and second temples.
Others were of the opinion that the Holocaust, the greatest calamity of Jewish history, should have its own unique memorial day. In 1951, 27 Nissan (Jewish calendar) was chosen to mark Holocaust and Ghetto Uprising Remembrance Day, for several reasons: This date previously served as memorial day for the fallen of the 1936-1939 Arab revolt in Palestine; the date falls during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the largest Jewish revolt during the Holocaust (the day of its outbreak cannot be commemorated since it falls on Passover); 27 Nissan falls precisely a week after Passover, and a week before Israel’s Memorial Day and Independence Day. Thus, a continuum of national commemorative dates was formed. The date also falls during the counting of the Omer, during which mourning customs are practiced.
> In Zionism
Israel’s Knesset anchored the observance of the day in the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day Law, passed in 1959. On this day, a two minute air raid siren is sounded throughout the country at 10:00 AM, and all activity is halted for all to stand in silence.
As with every Jewish commemoration date, Holocaust Day begins on the eve of 27 Nissan, with a state ceremony held at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the state institution established by the State of Israel to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust. It is customary to open the remembrance ceremonies with a reading of Yizkor memorial prayer the in its religious version [“may G-d remember...”) or, Yizkor in the version composed by Abba Kovner (Let us remember our brothers and our sisters...”). The ceremonies include readings of testimonies, singing of songs written during the Holocaust and in its wake, or other songs of mourning, sometimes accompanied by dance. At certain locations, Holocaust survivors are invited to give their stories.
The events of Holocaust Day are concluded traditionally with simultaneous ceremonies at the two memorial sites established to commemorate the fighters in Warsaw and in other ghettos: The Ghetto Fighters' House museum in the north, established by fighters of the Jewish Fighting Organization in the Warsaw ghetto and their comrades from the Kibbutz Dror HaMeuhad; and the museum at Kibbutz Yad Mordechai in the south, established by Hashomer Hatzair members, named after Mordechai Anielewicz, member of the movement and commander of the Jewish Fighting Organization and Warsaw ghetto uprising.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked on January 27, the day on which the Auschwitz camp was liberated in 1945.