Sirens wail in Israel in tribute to Nazis' victims

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An ultra Orthodox Jewish man visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Wednesday, April 18, 2012. Israel will be marking its annual remembrance day for the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in World War II on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM (AP) — The wail of air raid sirens sounded across Israel on Thursday, signaling the country to come to a standstill in tribute to 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

For two minutes, pedestrians stopped in their tracks and motorists stood next to their vehicles, heads bowed. In homes and businesses, people suspended their daily tasks to pay homage to victims of the Nazi genocide.

The day is one of the most solemn on Israel's calendar. Restaurants and places of entertainment shut down, and radio and TV programming focuses on Holocaust documentaries and interviews with survivors.

Ceremonies were scheduled at schools and other public institutions, including the public reading of names of Holocaust victims at Israel's parliament and other sites around the country.

At the opening state ceremony Wednesday night at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Israeli leaders linked the Nazi genocide to Iran's suspected drive to acquire nuclear arms and urged the world to stop it.

"Those who dismiss the Iranian threat as a whim or an exaggeration haven't learned a thing from the Holocaust," said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been criticized by some in Israel for making the linkage.

"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," he said. "That is an insult to its victims and that is ignoring its lessons."

Iran denies its objective is to build nuclear bombs.

The linkage drawn between the Holocaust and Iran shows how more than six decades later, the mass murder of Jews during World War II 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.