Yom HaShoah 2011 in Jerusalem
3. 5. 2011 / Andrej Rogačevskij
This year, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day, commonly known in Israel as Yom HaShoah, is celebrated on 1-2 May (the opening ceremony begins on 1 May after the sunset, because the Jewish religious calendar tells us that, just like darkness had been there before G-d created light, a new day begins on the night of the previous one).
While in many other countries, in accordance with a 2005 UN resolution, the Holocaust Day is marked on 27 January (in recognition of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz by the Soviet troops), in Israel, following a 1953 inauguration with an emphasis on armed resistance, it has been linked to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and takes place half way through between the Passover festivities (which for Jews symbolise a release from slavery) and the Independence Day.
Over the years, the commemorative events, involving Holocaust survivors, as well as the leading statesmen and dignitaries, have developed into a ritual of sorts, which I was able to observe first hand from a relatively close distance.
The ceremony was held on the grounds of the Holocaust History Museum (Yad Vashem) in Jerusalem. To get there today, one had to take a bus to the Tomb of Theodore Herzl nearby, and then board a free shuttle to the Museum. You were only allowed on the shuttle if you had an invitation. Over 2000 invitations, each admitting two people, had reportedly been issued, and I was advised to come two hours before the event, to get a better seat.
The security arrangements were tight even by the Israeli standards. On the road leading to Yad Vashem, there was at least one guard every 200 yards or so. There also were three security barriers. At the first, you were asked to show your ID and to explain what your interest in the event was and how you'd obtained the invitation (I got mine from the Visiting Faculty Office at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem). At the second, your palms would be checked for traces of explosives. At the third, you'd pass through the metal detectors. In addition, there was a helicopter circling for a while above an open-air area with hundreds of plastic chairs, all on the ground level, placed in front of a stage, which was flanked by two large screens. As far as I could judge, the ceremony was mostly attended by high school children, servicemen, members of the clergy (I saw at least two Orthodox Christian priests), foreigners like me and journalists. Simultaneous translation was provided through headsets, in several languages, including English and Russian. My seat happened to be roughly in the middle of the seating area. To the left and behind me, there were English-speaking people, presumably students or postdocs (if the snippets of their conversation I had overheard were anything to go by). To the right and in front, there were military men and women of all ranks, from different Israeli regiments. I could hardly see the stage for their berets of varying colours.
The ceremony, broadcast live on television, began at 8pm with the Israeli flag being lowered to half-mast. Then a large Memorial Torch was lit by Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem directorate.
After a short musical prelude by a violinist ensemble, the Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took turns to address the audience (which included, among others, Israel's President of the Supreme Court and Chief Rabbi). For Peres, the Holocaust proved beyond doubt the need for a Jewish state with the Jewish army. For his part, Netanyahu spoke of the three lessons of the Holocaust: 1) the threats of those wishing to destroy a nation should not be ignored; 2) physical attacks on the Jews are usually preceded by waves of hatred directed towards the Jews, and the world today is not an exception; and 3) the defence of the Jews should be done by the Jews themselves. Both Peres and Netanyahu were using the occasion to repeatedly refer to Iran as posing a threat not to Israel alone, but to the international community at large.
After a short musical interlude, provided by the Israeli pop star Yehudit Ravitz, six Holocaust survivors, downstage right, lit smaller torches, one each per million victims. Six personal stories, told by the survivors themselves, had been pre-recorded on camera and were shown, one after another, on the screens adjacent to the stage. (One of the six was Hannah Pressburger from Prague, a Terezin survivor, who had lived in Israel since 1949.) This part of the ceremony was concluded with a live address, on behalf of the survivors, by the ex-Auschwitz inmate Michael Goldman-Gilad, born in 1925 in Poland. Afterwards, a traditional prayer for the souls of the deceased, El Maleh Rahamim, was heard, beautifully performed by the Chief Cantor of the Israeli Defence Forces, Lt. Col. Shai Abramson. This was followed by the national anthem of Israel, known by heart and sang con anima by most people in the audience. One row in front of me, two Lieutenant Colonels felt sufficiently moved to give a military hand salute.
One could not fail to notice how important the Holocaust is for the Israeli politics. After all, it can be said that the state of Israel owes its very existence, at least in part, to a recognition of the atrocities that the Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Yet among those present at Yad Vashem today, there may well have been quite a few people whose relatives died in ghettos and extermination camps, and for such members of the audience (including myself) the ceremony did hold a significant personal resonance.
On 2 May 2011, the Yom HaShoah commemoration activities continued. At 10am, the sound of a two-minute siren stopped the traffic, and even the pedestrians, in memory of the Holocaust. The siren also marked the beginning of a wreath-laying ceremony at the Warsaw Ghetto Square, with the participation of the President, Prime Minister, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, President of the Supreme Court, Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Chief of the General Staff, Chief of Police, Dean of the Diplomatic Corps, Mayor of Jerusalem and other public figures, as well as representatives of survivor and fighter organizations, school children and delegations from all over Israel and from abroad. The ceremony was followed by recitation of Holocaust victims' names at the Knesset, under the auspices of the Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin. But I was not there to witness or to take part. Instead, I went to the concert `Music from Theresienstadt', organized by the Department of Musicology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the Mount Scopus university campus. I had been to Terezin and know a bit about its thriving fine arts, but I have never heard any of Terezin music in a live performance before. The music was presented in a part-lecture/part-concert format by the mezzo-soprano Hannie Ricardo, a singer and musical theatre director with a degree in history. The piano accompaniment was provided by Allan Sternfield. Ms Ricardo aptly demonstrated a wide range of music composed at Terezin, from meditative `Four Songs' in German (op. 6) by James Simon (Berlin, 1880 -- Auschwitz, 1944) to "Lietala, gálala", "V mikulášské kompanii", "Dárek a lásky" and "Přípověd" by Janáček's student Pavel Haas (Brno, 1899 -- Auschwitz, 1944), now influenced by folk music, now by jazz (these songs were performed in Czech with a charming Israeli accent) -- finishing off with seemingly light-hearted cabaret pieces "Ich weiss bestimmt, ich werd dich wiedersehn" by Adolf Strauss (Žatec, 1902 -- Auschwitz, 1944) and "Drunt im Prater" by Otto Skutecky (1907-1944), which really sends shivers down one's spine if considered what had really been going on while these entertaining songs were being composed (Ms Ricardo seems to have felt most at ease with these last two). The best of the pieces, however, in my view, was "Ein Jüdisches Kind" by Carlo Sigmund Taube (Galicia, 1887 -- Auschwitz, 1944). Unable to illustrate my report with a sound file, I'd like to reproduce here the song's German lyrics, by Erika Taube, which gives an idea of the music's strangely attractive mournful nature:
Du bist ein Kind wie all' die vielen
Die auf der ganzen Erde sind
Wie all' die anderen gespielen
Und doch bis du so anderes Kind.
Du bist ein Kind dem Heimat fehlt
In allen Städten bist du fremd
So lang dich nicht das Wort bestellt
Heimat dein Herz ist ungehemmt.
Even though it was a lunchtime concert for fifty people at most, which the public brings their sandwiches to, munching them loudly and coughing more frequently than is appropriate for the occasion, it did leave a lasting impression, and served as a touching private complement to yesterday's jubilation of official rhetoric, which may have left some sceptics a little cold. By the way, Ms Ricardo has filmed the entire show on her mobile phone, perched on a tripod. With any luck, it'll be on the YouTube soon.Vytisknout
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