by Dave Bender, Gur Salomon, Susana Mendoza
JERUSALEM, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed Iranian nuclear aspirations as an existential threat to Israel, in remarks at the opening ceremony of Holocaust Memorial Day on Sunday evening at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
The annual ceremony opens 24-hours of national commemorations across the country, mourning the deaths of six million Jews at the hands of the German Nazis and their supporters in World War II.
"Even after the Holocaust occurred, there exists a regime whose leaders are Holocaust deniers and open Holocaust promoters," Peres said of Iran, singling out its leadership as "a danger to the whole world, not only to Israel."
Peres, in his address before several hundred survivors and dignitaries, said that Israel must be self-reliant in the face of ongoing threats.
In the solemn annual ceremony, which is broadcast nationally, a memorial flame is lit and six representative survivors each kindle a torch of their own.
Netanyahu, in his address, said "when someone says they want to eradicate us, we must take them seriously," referring in one sentence to Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip as his country's sworn foes.
"Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas are working openly for the destruction of our people," Netanyahu warned.
"We cannot place our fate in the hands of others," he stressed, echoing Peres' word of self-reliance, and said that, "when Israel and the Israel Defense Forces say, 'Never Again,' they mean precisely that."
Hundreds of survivors attended the opening ceremony, and several spoke with Xinhua of their experiences and feelings.
Seventy seven year old Rene Levy of Montpelier, France and his younger brother Lucien were, respectively, nine and eight-years- old, when they were both sent to the Merigniac forced labor camp. Their parents were sent to Auschwitz, where they were killed.
"The State of Israel is mine," Levy said, adding, "I feel proud of Israel since it was established, even though a lot has changed for both good and bad."
Martha Goren, 76, lives in the Israeli city of Rehovot, and immigrated to Israel in 1946, where she married and raised a family. A child in Warsaw, Poland during the war, Goren hid from the Nazis with a non-Jewish family in Warsaw. Both Goren's parents were deported from eastern Galicia, and were sent to the Belzitz death camp.
"I am sad, because as far as I'm concerned - and the same can be said for every person who has lost his family at a young age; Holocaust Remembrance Day represents a painful personal memory," Goren said.
This year's events marking the solemn day come as fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors remain to provide first-person testimony of their experiences at the hands of the Nazis in Europe during World War II.
The Welfare of Holocaust Survivors Foundation recently reported that 208,000 Holocaust survivors are living in Israel, according to the Arutz Seven news site. Only 145,000 survivors will still be alive by 2015, according to the report, Arutz Sheva noted.
Ahead of the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day's ceremonies, Yad Vashem launched a national campaign encouraging citizens to donate any Holocaust related material documents, artifacts, works of art - in order to be cataloged and preserved.
With the slogan "By remembering the past, we can work together towards shaping a better future," the Holocaust Authority set up an online event on its Facebook page called the "I Remember" wall event to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.
By attending the online event, private citizen's names and their Facebook profile pictures will automatically be connected to the name and photo of a Holocaust victim on the "I Remember Wall".
There are now four million names in Yad Vashem's database, from the six million Jews that perished during the Holocaust. These names have been extracted from synagogues, war records and information provided from the victim's relatives. The Holocaust Authority is still trying to retrieve information about the rest.
The memorial day continues into Monday, when at 10:00 a.m. ( 0800 GMT), sirens sound for two-minutes across the country, at which time the population pauses in remembrance of the victims.
After the sirens, the names of the victims are read at ceremonies held nationwide, including by Knesset parliament members in a special session of the plenum.
Since Holocaust Remembrance Day is considered a day of mourning, places of entertainment, including as bars, theaters and cinemas are closed from Sunday evening to Monday evening, and special programs and films about the Holocaust are screened.