Israel comes to standstill to remember Holocaust

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JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel came to a standstill for two mournful minutes Monday as sirens pierced the air in an annual ritual to remember the 6 million Jews systematically murdered by German Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust in World War II.

Commemorations were being held around the country as Israel marked its annual Holocaust memorial day. The main wreath laying ceremony took place at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem. Visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres were among officials and Holocaust survivors in attendance.

"I am the only one who stayed alive, survived from all my family, about 100 people," said Zvi Shofet, a Holocaust survivor who participated in the ceremony.

When the sirens went off at 10 a.m., Israelis stopped what they were doing and stood in silence with their heads bowed. Traffic froze as drivers stopped their cars and stepped outside in a sign of respect.

At the Knesset, Israel's parliament, President Shimon Peres and other officials read names of loved ones who were murdered in the Holocaust.

Peres recited the names of his family members killed with 2,060 members of their community in August 1942 in the town of Vishneva, part of Poland before World War II and now in Belarus.

Nazis and their local accomplices rounded up the Jewish population and herded them into a wooden synagogue. Peres said his grandfather walked at the head of the community, wrapped in a prayer shawl, into the building.

The Nazis then shot at the structure and set it on fire, burning the people inside, Peres said.

The reading is an annual rite known as "Every Person Has a Name" that tries to break down the 6 million number into stories of individuals and families killed and communities destroyed. It also aims to counter those who deny the Holocaust happened.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is marked worldwide on Jan. 27, the date of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp. Israel's annual Holocaust memorial day coincides with the Hebrew date of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

This year's commemoration marked the 70-year anniversary of the ghetto uprising, a symbol of Jewish resistance against the Nazis in World War II that resonates deeply in Israel to this day.

The 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising was the first large-scale rebellion against the Nazis in Europe and the single greatest act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. Though guaranteed to fail, it became a symbol of struggle against impossible conditions and inspired other acts of uprising and underground resistance.

Holocaust memorial day is one of the most solemn on Israel's calendar. Restaurants, cafes and places of entertainment are shut down, and radio and TV programming are dedicated almost exclusively to documentaries about the Holocaust, interviews with survivors and somber music.

Earlier in the day, Israel shut a crossing with Gaza after rockets were fired from the Hamas-ruled territory at southern Israel.

The military said it closed the Kerem Shalom terminal but another crossing would be open for humanitarian cases.

Israeli police said several rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel on Sunday evening as annual ceremonies were held across the country.

Israeli TV showed footage of people in the south of the country abandoning a Holocaust memorial ceremony and running for cover as the Code Red sirens wailed warning of incoming rockets. No injuries were caused by the rocket attack, police said.