Jerusalem, Apr 12 (PTI) Israel came to a standstill today as sirens wailed across the country to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day in memory of the six million Jews killed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Vehicles halted on streets and highways as Israelis stepped out and stood on the roads with heads bowed down.

Schools, public institutions and army bases will also organise a series of ceremonies to pay respects to the victims of the Holocaust with about 10,000 people expected to participate later in the day in the ‘March of the Living’ in Poland led by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

The Israeli parliament – the Knesset – will hold its annual ceremony – ‘Unto Every Person There is a Name – in which lawmakers recite names of victims of the Nazis for nearly two hours. A similar ceremony will also be held at the Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum) in Jerusalem.

Israel Defence Forces chief Gadi Eisenkot and the heads of spy agency Mossad and internal security agency Shin Bet will also participate in the March of the Living event in Poland, a three-kilometre march from the main Auschwitz concentration camp to the Birkenau extermination camp that housed the gas chambers and crematoria where the victims were killed.

The Nazis murdered some 1.1 million people at the camp, mostly Jews, but also Russians, Gypsies, Poles and members of other nationalities.

The Holocaust Remembrance Day is a solemn affair in Israel with restaurants, stores and entertainment centres closed and Holocaust-themed movies and documentaries broadcast on TV and radio.

Most schools and many pre-schools hold official assemblies where students honour the dead and hear stories from survivors.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lashed out at Iran at the official ceremony marking the start of the Holocaust Remembrance Day last evening, warning Tehran not to “test Israel’s resolve”.

In a sharp criticism of the landmark nuclear accord reached between Tehran and world powers, Netanyahu said, “I have a message for the leaders of Iran: Don’t test Israel’s resolve”.

Addressing the Iranian people, he said, “the regime is oppressing you and when this regime disappears off the face of the earth then our two peoples can live together once more in coexistence”.

Urging the world community to learn from the Holocaust and not ignore the recent chemical attack in Syria, the prime minister said such incidents if not tackled immediately spread fast and threaten humanity.

“We saw Syrian children that were slaughtered by chemical weapons. One great lesson that has been with us since the Holocaust: Murderous evil that is not stood up against spreads rapidly and gradually, and threatens all of humanity”.

“The leaders of the free world wanted to prevent war and led to the conquest of all of Europe,” he said adding, “their unwillingness to pay the price to curb aggression early on, led to humanity paying the price”.

Israel is in a state of high alert given Iran’s threat to avenge an alleged Israeli attack on a Syrian base as well as any possible US strike against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in retaliation to the chemical attack at Douma.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.