The Holocaust Museum in the northern city of Porto in Portugal celebrated International Holocaust Day last Friday by hosting approximately 2,000 elementary and high school students from schools all over the country. The ceremony was brought forward by one day from the date set in 2005 by the UN General Assembly as the International Day of Remembrance in memory of the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis between 1938-1945.
The entire day was accompanied by heavy security for the museum and the youths who visited the place, since since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, the museum has been closed to the general public due to the fear for the safety of the visitors and the community.
The museum staff prepared a program for the young visitors that included an introduction to the genocide committed against European Jews in those years. Each school that participated on this day had its own memorial ceremony, which included the lighting of a memorial candle in the museum’s room of names, a unique space that records the names of tens of thousands of Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
In the three years that have passed since it was established, the Holocaust Museum in Porto, the only one in the Iberian Peninsula, hosted about 150 thousand youths. Visitors to the museum and learn about what happened before, during and after the Holocaust, and the visit to the space that was planned and designed in a precise way, leaves a strong impression on the visitors. Among the exhibits at the site, the exhibit of the sleeping cells in the Auschwitz extermination camp, objects and documents displayed at the site that belonged to survivors who fled the Nazis to the city were listed.
“Every year, about 50,000 teenagers from schools all over the country visit the museum, a number that is about 5% of all school students in the country. Here they communicate with us and we feel that they understand and love us,” said Michael Rothwell, director of the Holocaust Museum whose grandfather was murdered in Auschwitz.
Meanwhile, in the freezing cold, a ceremony was held on the occasion of International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Tiraspol, the capital of Transnistria – the separatist region in Moldova. The event was held at the Holocaust Memorial in the capital city with the participation of the Prime Minister of Transnistria Alexander Rosenberg and led by Rabbi Pinchas Saltzman, Rabbi of Moldova.
The Jewish community in Transnistria, led by community chairman Yuriy Kreichman, celebrates every year in a state ceremony International Holocaust Day and the hundreds of thousands of Jews who lived in the region before the Holocaust. Rabbi Pinchas Saltzman, rabbi of Moldova, also serves as the rabbi of Transnistria’s Jews.
The Prime Minister of Transnistria Alexander Rosenberg spoke at the ceremony and said: “We have a commitment to the flourishing of the Jewish communities here in Transnistria. Especially now, after the events of 7/10, we all need to remember our role to make sure that no more holocaust occurs.”
The rabbi of Moldova, Rabbi Pinchas Salzman, praised the activity of the authorities in safeguarding the Jewish communities. “100 days ago there was a shocking massacre of residents in Israel, the statement ‘never again’ was trampled underfoot by Hamas terrorists. Here in Tirspol we see how the authorities respect the preservation of the memory of the Holocaust and the survivors of the Holocaust.”
Also, rabbis from the Conference of Rabbis of Europe joined the tradition of the Shem Vener association and lit the association’s unique soul candles. Among the rabbis who lit the fire, the chief military rabbi of Germany and the chief rabbi of Leipzig and Saxony, Rabbi Mordechai Zolt was among those who chose to perform the lighting in the cemetery in Leipzig, where those buried perished in the Holocaust.
The chief rabbi of the Jewish community in Frankfurt, Rabbi Avichai Apel, also performed the significant and important lighting in a special place, a place that was used to concentrate the Jews before the train to the camps in Frankfurt. In addition to them, the main leader in Odessa, Ukraine, Rabbi Shlomo Bakshet, chose to light the candles together with the students of the orphanage in their new location in Romania, the candles were arranged in the shape of a Star of David and the rabbi even performed a blessing in memory of those who perished in the Holocaust.
Rabbi Eliyahu Hamra, rabbi of Amiya community, president of the community committee in Argentina and member of the international division of the Conference of Rabbis of Europe, also joined the tradition, and for the first time performed a lighting together with the Jewish community in Argentina.
Besides them, the chief rabbi of the Jewish community in Amsterdam, Rabbi Shmuel Katz, the chief rabbi in Lyon, Rabbi Daniel Dayan and the chief military rabbi of Ukraine, Rabbi Hillel Cohen, joined the association’s tradition and lit the candles of “Shem Vener”.
The Shem Vener association has been working since 2013 to commemorate the memory of the Holocaust for future generations and for this purpose promotes a tradition of lighting a personal memorial candle on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day. Every year, hundreds of thousands of personal memorial candles are lit in homes, schools, public authorities, IDF units, the Israeli Knesset, the President’s House, and a variety of corporate organizations and public institutions. Each candle bears a label bearing the essence of the personal details of a person who perished in the Holocaust, as well as A QR code that links to a website where you can read information about that person. The association’s website has a name database containing over 400,000 names entered by the public – survivors, family members and acquaintances of the victims, young school students – and is the source of the names printed on the labels.
The CEO of the ‘Shem Vener’ association, Elisha Yacovi: “I thank the Conference of European Rabbis and their emissaries throughout Europe for continuing to take part for another year in the important project of Shem Vener, in which we give space to stories and people whose stories have not yet been heard. This year, while Israel is experiencing the worst disaster since the Holocaust, and Israel and the Jewish people are once again experiencing anti-Semitism in every corner, it is of great importance to light the candle that is an integral part of Israeli advocacy, and the lessons from those events accompany every ambassador as part of their work for the State of Israel and Diaspora Jewry. We will continue to act in order to give a name and a face to all 6 million who perished and to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and the wreath of those murdered from the Black Sabbath with a loud cry that the nation of Israel lives!”
The President of the Conference of Rabbis of Europe, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, said: “We are happy to be partners in this important project as part of our moral duty to instill the memory of the Holocaust for future generations as well. While we remember these days the 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, who were brutally exterminated by Nazi Germany, we must not be blind to current developments. The alarming rise of extreme right-wing parties in Europe, the growing anti-Semitism of the extreme left and Islamist fundamentalists raise fears of a resurgence of ideologies that have led to untold suffering in the past. Therefore, the words ‘never again’ must not degenerate into mere expressions, Rather, it must be an obligation for all people to stand up resolutely against any form of anti-Semitism, extremism, hatred and racism and attempts to make comparisons and references to the Holocaust.”