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Holocaust survivors from Ukraine land in Israel on Remembrance Day

Besides nine elderly Holocaust survivors, the rescue plane also carried many wounded people rescued from the combat zones in the heart of Ukraine (Image courtesy: Twitter/ZakaHQ)

Just a few hours before entire Israel came to a standstill on the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day Thursday morning, a medical rescue plane with nine elderly Holocaust survivors from Ukraine landed at the Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv in a highly symbolic move for the country's Jewish community.

The plane also carried many wounded people rescued from the combat zones in the heart of Ukraine and the body of the late Holocaust survivor Aharon Skamorovsky, who was rescued with his wife from Kiev and died at the hospital in Kishinev.

"It is so symbolic on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day to receive now at Ben Gurion Airport nine Holocaust survivors who fled the battles in Ukraine on a special rescue flight of the ZAKA and the Friendship Foundation. I was excited to see their faces and happy that they had come home to Israel, a home protected for the Jewish people," tweeted Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata.

The minister, who personally oversaw transfer of the immigrants to hospitals, nursing homes and dedicated apartments prepared for them in advance from the airport, said that more than 500 Holocaust survivors have arrived in Israel in the past two months.

The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew) is a national day of commemoration in Israel, on which the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust are memorialized. It is a solemn day, beginning at sunset on the 27th of the Hebrew month of Nisan and ending the following evening, according to the traditional Jewish custom of marking a day. Places of entertainment are closed and memorial ceremonies are held throughout the country.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry states that central ceremonies, in the evening and the following morning, are held at Yad Vashem and are broadcast live. Marking the start of the day, in the presence of the President of the State of Israel and the Prime Minister, dignitaries, survivors, children of survivors and their families, gather together with the general public to take part in the memorial ceremony at Yad Vashem in which six torches, representing the six million murdered Jews, are lit.

The following morning, the ceremony at Yad Vashem begins with the sounding of a siren for two minutes throughout the entire country. For the duration of the sounding, work is halted, people walking in the streets stop, cars pull off to the side of the road and everybody stands at silent attention in reverence to the victims of the Holocaust. Afterward, the focus of the ceremony at Yad Vashem is the laying of wreaths at the foot of the six torches, by dignitaries and the representatives of survivor groups and institutions.

Other sites of remembrance in Israel, such as the Ghetto Fighters' Kibbutz and Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, also host memorial ceremonies, as do schools, military bases, municipalities and places of work.

Throughout the day, both the television and radio broadcast programs about the Holocaust. In recent years, other countries and Jewish communities have adopted Yom Hashoah, the 27th of Nisan, to mark their own day of memorial for the victims of the Holocaust. 

"Building the State of Israel, the Jewish state in the Land of Israel, is in fact our victory over those who sought to wipe us out. Let us all embrace and safeguard our country," said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in his Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day speech at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, on Wednesday evening.

"We have built a strong and prosperous Jewish state in the Land of Israel. The goal — which we have no choice but to meet — is that the State of Israel must be the strongest. Always. To have the strongest army, with the best air force, with the bravest fighters, with the most sophisticated Mossad and Israel Security Agency, and above all, with the deepest conviction in the righteousness of our path," he added.

Bennett, who is due to visit India soon, said that Israel is "building bridges to new and old friends" and deepening its alliances but warned that their future existence depends highly on deepening roots within their land.
"The Holocaust took place after nearly two thousand years of exile. The Jewish people are similar to a plant that requires a certain type of land. The plant can maybe live and even somehow survive in another place, but if it wants to fully grow and blossom, it must be rooted in its own land," he said.

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