Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorates the lives and heroism of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust.
The day was established by Israel in 1959. It was originally proposed to be commemorated on the 15th of Nisan, the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (April 19, 1943), but this was deemed problematic, it being the first day of Pesach (Passover). Instead, the 27th was chosen, being eight days before Yom Ha'atzma'ut, or Israeli Independence Day.
Commemorations range from synagogue services to communal vigils and educational programs. On the eve of Yom HaShoah in Israel, there is a state ceremony at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes Authority. At 10 am on Yom HaShoah, throughout Israel, air-raid sirens are sounded for two minutes. Public transport (including virtually all highway vehicles) comes to a standstill for this period, and people stop and stand silent. During Yom HaShoah, public entertainment and many public establishments in Israel are closed by law. Israeli television and radio channels broadcast mourning songs and documentaries about the Holocaust, without commercials. All flags on public buildings are flown at half-staff.
Also during this day, tens of thousands of Israeli high-school students, and thousands of Jews from around the world, hold a memorial service in Auschwitz, in what became known as The March of the Living, in defiance of the Holocaust Death Marches. This event is endorsed and subsidized by the Israeli Ministry of Education and the Holocaust Claims Conference, and is considered an important part of the academic studies--a culmination of several months of studies on World War II and the Holocaust.
In Ottawa, the Shoah Committee has organized many different Yom Hashoah commemorations over the years from programs featuring talks by a Holocaust survivors, prayers, songs and readings, with special memorial candle-lighting to the viewing of a Holocaust-themed films and guest speakers.
Last year, the community had the honour of hearing the story of Pinchas Gutter, who survived the Warsaw Ghetto, six concentration camps and the murder of his entire immediate family.
Mr. Gutter explained: "I tell my story for the purpose of improving humanity, drop by drop by drop. Like a drop of water falls on a stone and erodes it, so, hopefully, by telling my story over and over and over again, I will achieve the purpose of making the world a better place to live in." Special remarks were also made by Dr. Julien Klener, president of the Belgium Jewish community, a government representative and also a child survivor, who discussed the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Holocaust Remembrance Day 2016 is May 4.