The wail of air raid sirens pierced the air for two minutes as the country came to a standstill remembering the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust. People stood at attention and traffic stopped during the moment of silence.

Radio stations played mournful music throughout the day and in homes and businesses, people put aside their daily tasks to pay homage to those killed in World War II.

Israel used the solemn occasion of the annual Holocaust Memorial Day to call on the world to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and to draw attention to the plight of the dwindling number of survivors.

At the opening state ceremony, Israel’s leaders – President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – linked the Nazi genocide to Iran’s suspected drive to acquire nuclear arms and urged the world to stop it. Iran denies such intentions.

Mr Peres and Mr Netanyahu both called on the world to learn the lessons of the Holocaust and stop Iran from acquiring atomic weapons.

“The Iranian regime is acting openly and decisively towards our destruction, and it is acting feverishly to develop a nuclear weapon to achieve this goal,” Mr Netanyahu said.

Mr Peres, who was born in the Polish town of Vishneva in 1923 and migrated to pre-state Israel before the war erupted, learned later how Nazi troops beat members of his extended family and ordered them to march towards the town’s synagogue.

“Someone yelled ‘Jews, save yourselves!’ The Germans shot those who tried to escape. The rest arrived at the synagogue that was made of wood. Its doors were locked. They were all burned alive,” he said. “That was also the last day of Rabbi Zvi Meltzer, my grandfather, my mentor. He was burned with a prayer shawl on his head. That was the last Jewish day in Vishneva. Not a single living Jew remained.”

Mr Peres, 88, spoke at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, before hundreds of survivors and their families, Israeli leaders, diplomats and others.

The Israeli flag flew at half mast and a military honour guard stood at one side of the podium as poems and psalms were read and the Jewish prayer for the dead was recited.

Mr Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, linked the Nazi genocide to Iran’s suspected drive to acquire nuclear bombs and its leaders’ repeated references to the destruction of Israel.

He said humanity must learn the lessons of the Holocaust and face existential threats before it is too late.

“Iran is at the centre of this threat. It is the centre of terror. It poses a threat to world peace,” he added.

Mr Netanyahu also warned of the danger posed by Iran.

“Those who dismiss the Iranian threat as a whim or an exaggeration haven’t learned a thing from the Holocaust,” he said. “To be deterred from telling the truth – that today, like

then, there are those who want to destroy millions of Jews – that is disrespectful of the Holocaust. That is an insult to its victims and that is ignoring its lessons.”

The stated links between the Holocaust and Iran showed how more than six decades later, the mass murder of Jews during the World War is still a central part of Israel’s psyche.

The nation was created just three years after the end of the war, and hundreds of thousands of dazed survivors made their way to Israel.

Today, fewer than 200,000 elderly survivors remain in the country.

At the Israeli Parliament Mr Netanyahu, Mr Peres, other officials and survivors read names of loved ones who perished as a result of Nazi atrocities.

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