Why Does Israel Mark Holocaust Remembrance on a Different Day?

The world marks Holocaust Remembrance Day on 27th January, the date that Auschwitz was liberated. But in Israel, we mark it on 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, fixed in the Jewish calendar, which is usually sometime in April or May, but it changes from year to year. Why are they different?

“Yom haZikaron laShoah ve-l’Givora” – “Remembrance Day of the Holocaust and of Heroism”

The name of this event we have in Israel points to the reason for the alternative date. You can see why the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz was chosen for International Holocaust Day, but in Israel, it is the Warsaw Ghetto uprising that is the event of significance: more than just remembering the Holocaust, we also remember the heroism that was displayed. Due to the fact that the actual anniversary of the uprising coincides with Passover, the date of Holocaust memorial day was moved forward, to being 8 days before Israel’s Independence Day.
On 14th Nisan (which was 19th April in 1943) the Jewish people who had been trapped in the Ghetto by the Nazis decided to rise up and fight. Some 400,000 Jewish people had been locked into a small area of Warsaw, unable to leave, without provisions and starving to death. They were few in number against the might of the Nazis, but still, they heroically held their enemies at bay for four long weeks. This is remarkable when we think that the Nazis conquered the whole nation of Poland in 28 days, but they couldn’t break the resistance of the weakened, starving, Jewish prisoners for the same length of time. Unfortunately, eventually the Jewish fighters were overcome. They refused to surrender to the bitter end. A total of 13,000 Jews were killed, about half of them burnt alive or suffocated. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place between 19th April and 16th May 1943, and was the largest act of Jewish resistance during the horrors of the Holocaust.
What many people do not realize is how many Jewish people believed in Yeshua at that time. There were approximately quarter of a million Messianic Jews before Hitler’s rampage, and “the achievements and witness of Jewish believers during the Holocaust and especially in the Warsaw Ghetto are essentially unknown to most present day Jewish believers. We stand on the shoulders of these heroes of the Holocaust – the Jewish believers of the Warsaw Ghetto – and their story, as much or as little as we know, must be told,” writes Dr. Mitch Glaser in his paper, Heroes of the Holocaust: Poland, the Warsaw Ghetto and Yeshua. Many of those trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto were Messianic believers. They have also left great legacies and stories of heroism from this ugly episode of history.
In his paper, “Heroes of the Holocaust: Poland, the Warsaw Ghetto and Yeshua”, Dr Mitch Glaser writes,

“The achievements and witness of Jewish believers during the Holocaust and especially in the Warsaw Ghetto are essentially unknown to most present day Jewish believers. We stand on the shoulders of these heroes of the Holocaust – the Jewish believers of the Warsaw Ghetto – and their story, as much or as little as we know, must be told”. (To read them, click here)

How do we mark the day in Israel?

Jewish days go from sunset to sunset, so Yom haShoah starts the evening before, with an official ceremony at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem. The Prime Minister, the President, and six survivors are present to light a memorial candle to honour the six million who were killed. Public entertainment is prohibited, with restaurants, bars and so on closed until the sun sets the following day. At ten in the morning, a siren wails across the country, and everyone stops what they are doing to stand in silence and remember. Traffic comes to a standstill as cars stop dead in the middle of the road, wherever they are, and drivers get out to stand in remembrance.
In 2010, a new Yom haShoah initiative was started which has become increasingly widespread in Israel, calledZikaron BaSalon“.  Zikaron BaSalon means “memories in the living room”, and involves a group people gathering to listen to the stories of a Holocaust survivor in the lounge of someone’s home. The event consists of three parts: a Holocaust survivors’ testimony, creative expression in response, and open discussion.

The founders explain, “Alongside formal events, Zikaron BaSalon offers a new, meaningful and intimate way to commemorate this day and address its implications through discussions at home among family, friends and guests. It is a unique and authentic tradition of people gathering together to open their hearts to the stories of the survivors, sing, think, read, talk and most importantly- listen.”

Some 30 people gathered in my friend’s home – neighbours, colleagues, friends, people from the Messianic congregation, exchange students and family members – all collected together to hear first-hand accounts of what a lady called Rosie had experienced, and the effect it had had on the family. A sign was up in the apartment block, inviting anyone who wanted to come and hear her stories, and there were similar events happening in living rooms all across Israel. People responded with poems they had prepared, and a song, and shared their own thoughts long into the evening. As time goes by, we have fewer and fewer people left who actually experienced the Holocaust, and survived to tell the tale. It is right and proper to give them our full attention, and really listen to what happened to them, and the repercussions that continue to this day.

Heroism and Hope

I like the fact that Israel emphasises the heroism that often gets forgotten in tales of the Holocaust. The end of the official ceremony also involves the singing of Israel’s national anthem, “Ha Tikva”, which means “The Hope”. The people of Israel were brutally decimated, but not destroyed. They continue to live, to grow, and be a blessing to the world in many different ways – Israel is constantly offering new technology, agricultural developments, and medical breakthroughs that bless to the nations. As we are coming up to Israel’s Independence Day in a couple of weeks, another big reason for the difference in timing becomes apparent. The country of Israel was reborn out of the ashes of the Holocaust, and it is good to be aware of the connection. And since God has restored his people to their land like dry bones coming back to life, the number of Jewish people who have also received the breath of God, his Spirit, continues to grow. There is hope. God is faithful to his people Israel.

Words to Israel’s national anthem, “Ha Tikva”




 כל עוד בלבב פנימה
נפש יהודי הומייה
ולפאתי מזרח קדימה
עין לציון צופיה
עוד לא אבדה תקוותינו
התקווה בת שנות אלפיים
להיות עם חופשי בארצנו
ארץ ציון וירושלים
Kol od ba’le’vav p’nima,
Nefesh yehudi ho’miyah.
U’lefa-atei mizrach kadimah,
Ayin le’Tziyyon tzofiyah.
Od lo avda tikva-teinu,
Ha’tikvah bat sh’not al-payim
Lih-yot am chofshi b’ar-tzeinu
Eretz Tziyyon v’Yerushalayim.
As long as within our hearts
The Jewish soul sings,
As long as forward to the East
To Zion, looks the eye –
Our hope is not yet lost,
It is two thousand years old,
To be a free people in our land
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Photo by Mika R on Unsplash

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