Remembering the Holocaust, Israel Keeps Wary Eye on Iran

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:17 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - As Israel marked international holocaust day on Tuesday, officials warned the international community to heed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats to destroy the Jewish State. Some compared the Iranian leader to Nazi dictator Adolph Hitler.

Sirens wailed as Israel came to a halt for two minutes on Tuesday morning. Cars stopped where they were, drivers and pedestrians alike pausing to remember the six million Jews who were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust.

Israeli leaders mentioned the growing threat from Iran in speeches honoring Holocaust victims.

Knesset Speaker and former Prime Minister Shimon Peres likened Ahmadinejad to Hitler, saying they both intended to exterminate the Jewish people.

On Monday, Ahmadinejad, who has previously dismissed the Holocaust as a myth and called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," said this "fake regime" (Israel) "cannot logically continue to exist."

"This is the first man since Hitler to stand up and say that the Jewish people must be exterminated," Peres said in a radio interview from Poland where he participating in memorial events marking the Holocaust.

"Hitler prepared the extermination camps. He [Ahmadinejad] wants a [nuclear] bomb for what he says are 'civilian needs'," Peres said.

"We know perfectly well what his real intentions are and that's why we must take his declarations so seriously," he said.

Later, in a speech in Poland, Peres invited Ahmadinejad to come see the shoes without children, the hair without the women and the glasses without eyes (piles and piles of which still exist as a testimony to the cruelty of the Holocaust).

On Monday evening, at the official ceremony opening memorial events at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust authority, President Moshe Katsav didn't mention Iran by name but it was clear what he meant.

"Anti-Semitism has not disappeared. It is still seething in Europe...But anti-Semitism rages principally around us, in the Middle East. It keeps reappearing in expressions of hatred towards the State of Israel, in blood libels, in murder of Jews, in manifestations of Holocaust denial, in the negation and distortion of Zionism, in the opposition to recognizing the right of the Jewish people to independence, and in calls to exterminate the State of Israel....

"I call upon the free world not to be complacent, and not to tolerate the calls of countries striving to produce nuclear weapons, and preaching the destruction of the State of Israel. Not to make peace with leaders who see murder as a religious imperative," said Katsav.

Earlier, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz referred to Ahmadinejad as "one of the world's most dangerous leaders since Hitler."

Shadow of death

The theme of this year's memorial at Yad Vashem is the "human spirit in the shadow of death."

Kalman Bar-On was one of six Holocaust survivors chosen this year to light a memorial beacon in memory of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust at the opening ceremony at Yad Vashem. There are an estimated 250,000 survivors living in Israel.

Born in Yugoslavia in 1930, Bar-On and his twin sister Yehudit, then just 14, were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with their mother in June 1944.

Josef Mengele, known as the Angel of Death for his experiments on -- among others - sets of twins, was the medical officer of Aushwitz-Birkenau when Kalman and his family arrived.

Bar-On said he received many injections during his time there but none of them left him with any lasting effects. Most of Mengele's subjects either died or were killed. Those who survived often bore the physical scars that prevented them from living a normal life.

To this day, his sister will not talk about what was done to her or how their mother died, Bar-On said in a telephone interview.

In the barracks there were "little specks of life, inner optimists, towers of optimism," said Bar-On, now 75. These were people who didn't even know they were like that, he said. "They died like the others [but they were] little candles in the bunks."

Kalman and his sister survived the terrors of the camp and were later reunited. He arrived in Israel in 1947, married and had twin boys of own, something he views as a personal triumph over the sadistic doctor.

"From a Mengele twin came twins," said Bar-On, who is also now a proud grandfather.

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