JERUSALEM – Israel on Sunday began its annual day of remembrance for the 6 million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis, with a torch-lighting ceremony at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem (search) Holocaust memorial and museum.
Places of entertainment shut down for the evening, radio stations played mournful music and TV channels broadcast Holocaust (search)-related documentaries and dramas. Flags on public buildings were lowered to half-staff.
Though nearly six decades have passed since the end of World War II (search), the effect of the killing of a large portion of the Jewish people plays heavily on the psyche of Israel, and observance of the annual day of remembrance is almost total among Israel's Jews.
At the ceremony, shortly after nightfall, six Holocaust survivors, all veterans of the Auschwitz death camp, lit memorial flames, one for each million victims.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) said Israel had learned the lessons of the past and would never again tolerate attacks in Jews.
"We shall never allow the murderers of today or those of tomorrow to harm our people," Sharon said in his address. "Anyone who dares to do that will be struck down."
The ceremonies came a day after Israel assassinated the Gaza Strip leader of the Islamic militant Hamas group, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, in a missile strike.
During a visit to the Yad Vashem memorial earlier Sunday, the commander of Israel's armed forces said Rantisi was a Holocaust denier who claimed present-day Israelis were more evil than wartime Nazis.
"One of his recent comments was that comparing the Jews to the Nazis is an insult to the Nazis," Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon said.
On Monday morning, sirens were to sound, with streets becoming still and motorists stopping their cars to stand at attention beside them for two minutes of silence.
The theme of this year's commemoration is the continuing effort to document each individual victim of the Nazi extermination of Jews, under the slogan, "To the last Jew, to the last name."
Yad Vashem has about three million names on record of Jews killed in the Holocaust, only half the number of victims.
Also Sunday, in Germany, more than 500 people gathered at the Sachsenhausen memorial to mark the 59th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp located in Oranienburg, just outside Berlin.
Some 200,000 people — including political prisoners, captives from Poland, Soviet POWs as well as Jews — were interned at Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945, and tens of thousands died.
"The memory of the murdered must serve as a warning for coming generations," said former prisoner Zdzislaw Jasko, now vice president of the International Sachsenhausen Committee.
The camp, liberated April 22, 1945, by the Red Army, was then used by the Soviet occupiers to hold prisoners for several years until it was turned into a memorial.
A new visitor center was opened at the camp earlier this month, and the entrance to the site is to be moved for the 60th anniversary of the camp's liberation so that visitors pass through the same gate as prisoners did.
Some 500 others attended a similar weekend service at Ravensbrueck, a concentration camp for women 55 miles north of Berlin, which was liberated by the Soviets on April 30, 1945.
More than 130,000 women and children and 20,000 men were imprisoned at Ravensbrueck, and tens of thousands died.