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Today, Israel commemorates 70 years since the end of the Holocaust.
At 10.00 AM, the entire country came to a standstill during the sounding of the annual memorial siren. People driving on the roads got out of their cars and stood still for two minutes.
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During a ceremony at Yad Vashem’s Warsaw Ghetto Square, wreaths were laid by President Ruben Rivlin, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, and other senior political and military figures. After that, a ceremonial reading of the names of the Holocaust victims took place in the Hall of Remembrance.
Yesterday, during the opening ceremony at Yad Vashem, Netanyahu gave a speech in which he compared Iran’s violent and expansionist aspirations in the Middle East to the Nazi campaign to conquer Europe during World War II.
World powers are “comatose” and “delusional” in the face of today’s Nazis, Iran, he charged.
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“The main lesson of the Second World War, for democracies, is that they cannot turn a blind eye to tyrannical regimes,” Netanyahu said.
He also referred to the Prophet Isaiah, who once said: “For, behold, darkness shall cover the earth and gross darkness the peoples.”
He then continued, saying:
The determination and lessons that were acquired through blood seventy years ago are now dissipating, and the darkness and fog of denying reality are taking their place. The bad deal that is being made with Iran demonstrates that the historic lesson has not been internalized. The West is yielding in the face of Iran’s aggressive actions. Instead of demanding a significant dismantling of the nuclear program in Iran – a country that clearly states its plans to exterminate six million Jews here and elsewhere, to eradicate many countries and many regimes – the superpowers back down. They are leaving Iran with its nuclear capabilities intact, and even allowing it to expand them later on, regardless of Iran’s actions in the Middle East and around the world.
Netanyahu told the audience that he had met with Holocaust survivor Abraham Niederhoffer, who came to Israel from Romania in 1969.
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He had beseeched Netanyahu, “Prime Minister, it is your duty to prevent another Holocaust.” And Netanyahu responded: “That is exactly how I see my responsibility. That is exactly how I see my responsibility.”
A study published this week showed that almost half of the Israeli population thinks another Holocaust is possible.
When asked if they think the Holocaust could happen again, 46 percent of Israelis said yes — up five percent from last year
A Bar-Ilan University study that was published this week showed that Holocaust survivors and their adult children are more anxious about the Iranian nuclear threat than their counterparts who are not second-generation survivors. A hundred and six people participated in the study; 63 of them were born after World War II ended, and their parents lived under the Nazi-regime or a pro-Nazi-regime.
On Wednesday, another alarming report about the situation of world Jewry was released. The Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry published its Annual Report on Anti-Semitism for 2014 during a press conference at Tel Aviv University. It appeared that 2014 had been one of the worst years since the end of WW2.
“Troubling and alarming reports have been coming in from many countries, especially from Western-Europe and North America, hundreds and sometimes more than a thousand Anti-Semitic manifestations and incidents of various types per country. The tendencies that are characterized during this difficult year, in which violent, verbal and visual expressions of Anti-Semitism grew, also continued during the beginning of 2015, with increasing murderous attacks as well as other attacks”, said a spokesman for the Kantor Center.
During 2014, the Kantor Center registered 766 violent Anti-Semitic acts that were carried out with or without weapons and by arson, vandalism, or direct threats against Jewish people and Jewish institutions. These 766 incidents mark a rise of 38% compared to 2013, when 554 violent incidents were recorded. As a result, 2014 is regarded as the second worst year of the last decade, coming next after 2009.
“The categorization of violent incidents reflects a very troubling situation,” said the spokesman.
“The number of attacks on Jews and their property and institutions with weapons has more than doubled in comparison to 2013, in addition to 101 cases of violent cases without weapons. Cases of arson have more than tripled in comparison to the previous year (2013), and 412 incidents of vandalism were recorded. More than 306 people were targets of attacks, an increase of more than 66% in comparison to 2013. 114 attacks on synagogues marked an increase of 70%. As many as 57 community centers and schools; 118 Jewish cemeteries and memorial sites, as well as 171 private properties were targeted,” he added.
As a result of the shocking rise in Anti-Semitic violence, immigration to Israel increased 40% last year, according to the Kantor Center.
In Israel, much media attention went to the fate of the 189,000 Holocaust survivors still alive in the country. The Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel reported on Monday that the financial situation of many of these survivors is untenable. A staggering 45,000 of the survivors live below the poverty line, defined by the government as a monthly income of about $870.
Thirty percent of the survivors have forgone buying food products over the last year, compared with 19 percent the previous year. In addition, 25 percent have forgone medical treatment; and 39 percent said they cannot live in dignity with what they have – both figures up between seven and eight percentage points from the previous year.
One year ago, the Israel government approved a plan to increase the funding allocated to the Holocaust survivors by NIS 1 billion. This week, the High Court of Justice ordered the incoming government to speed up the program and to find a way by October 15 to provide financial aid to survivors who still lack state support.
The lack of state support does not mean that poor Holocaust survivors are starving. In Israel, many charities care for the needy.
The Jewish Agency, for example, has special shelters for needy Holocaust survivors. More than 6,000 Holocaust survivors live in Amigour’s sheltered housing facilities, making up more than 80% of the heavily subsidized facilities’ 7,500 elderly residents.
Each facility has a professional staff team dedicated to addressing the residents’ physical and psychological needs and ensuring that they can live their lives in safety and dignity. To counter the critical shortage of nursing facilities in Israel, Amigour recently built four new nursing homes in Kiryat Yam, providing 24-hour care and intensive treatment programs. Amigour also serves Holocaust survivors in less tangible but equally important ways, providing a wide variety of social and cultural services that combat the loneliness and enhance the quality of life of its residents.
Many Holocaust survivors in Israel are extraordinary personalities who stand out for their optimism and their contribution to Israeli society. One of them is Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who was Chief Rabbi of Israel and was one of the youngest survivors of the Buchenwald death camp. He was eight at the time of his liberation. His entire family was murdered by the Nazis, with the exception of his brothers, Naphtali and Joshua. Naphtali would later become a diplomat and an advisor to Israeli Prime Ministers.