The term Yom HaSho’ah translates as ‘Holocaust Day’. The exact translation of the Hebrew word shoah is actually ‘whirlwind’ and this is the Hebrew name which has been chosen for the Holocaust.
‘Holocaust‘ is the name used to describe the events that occurred during Hitler’s dictatorship in Europe (1933-1945), specifically Hitler’s so-called “Final Solution” which involved killing all the Jews. In fact, Hitler, his Nazis and their supporters succeeded in annihilating six million Jews (which was a third of world Jewry at that time), as well as five million other people.
The date of Yom HaSho’ah is the 27th Nissan in the Jewish calendar. This date marks the official end of the Warsaw ghetto uprising as well as the initial liberation of the Nazi death camps.
HOW DO WE OBSERVE YOM HASHO’AH?
In Israel Yom HaSho’ah is a full day of mourning when places of entertainment such as cinemas, banks and schools are closed and various special remembrance ceremonies are held. These ceremonies are broadcast on Israeli television and radio, where all programs are dedicated to the theme.
In countries outside of Israel (the Diaspora), special memorial ceremonies are held in by all Jewish communities at their schools, cemeteries and other institutions.
During these worldwide remembrance ceremonies certain prayers are recited, including El Malei Rachamim (‘God, full of mercy;) and Kaddish (prayers said in honour of the dead). In synagogues around the world special prayers are added to the normal daily prayers recited, according to the congregation’s preferences.
It is a widespread practice to light six candles to represent the six million Jews who perished in the Sho’ah.
Two minutes of silence are always observed at 11am or another specified time in remembrance of those who were murdered and perished during the Shoah. In Israel this two-minute silence is marked by a long siren. The entire country stands still; traffic stops and people get out of their cars and stand as a mark of respect. When the siren ends, the traffic and life resumes.
THE MEMORIAL CEREMONY AT YAD VASHEM
Yad Vashem is Israel’s main Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. On Yom HaShoah special ceremonies are held there as well as at other centres focused on Holocaust awareness.
At Yad Vashem the President of Israel and other dignitaries gather together with survivors, their families and the general public. Six torches are lit and the ceremony begins with dignitaries laying wreaths at the foot of the torches. Holocaust survivors may read accounts of their experiences, and the day may feature songs and poetry, such as The Partisan’s Song.
Aish – Crash Course in Jewish History: The Holocaust
Aish – Crash Course in Jewish History: The Final Solution
Jewish Virtual Library: The Holocaust (has links to numerous other detailed pages within the site)
Project Genesis: Yom HaShoah
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Holocaust Encyclopedia
Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust memorial museum)
About.com: The Holocaust