Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

What is Yom HaShoah?

Yom HaShoah took place this year from the evening of 17th to the evening of the 18th April. ‘Shoah’ is the Hebrew word for ‘catastrophe’ and ‘utter destruction’ and is commonly used in Israel and by Jewish communities around the world to refer to the Holocaust. In this article, we explore the origins of the day and the ways it is commemorated.

Yom HaShoah was proposed by the Israeli Government in 1951, but it was only in 1959 that it was established by law. The day of remembrance falls on the 27th day of the month of Nisan according to the Jewish Calendar and marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (generally, this date falls between March and April in the Gregorian calendar).

Former President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, at the State Assembly for the Opening of Yom HaShoah at Yad Vashem. Wednesday, April 7, 2021. Photo credit: Kobi Gideon / GPO.

Yom HaShoah is a day for internal reflection. It is a day for communities to pass on the torch of remembrance, honour the victims of the Holocaust, and understand its contemporary relevance. Lighting a memorial candle on Yom HaShoah has also become a ritual for Jewish communities.

Though it was established in Israel, Yom HaShoah is a day marked globally by communities and individuals. In Israel, Yom HaShoah begins at sundown with a state ceremony in Warsaw Ghetto Square, Jerusalem. Holocaust survivors light six torches representing the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust. Globally, Jewish communities hold commemorative ceremonies, which include memorial services and educational programmes on or around Yom HaShoah.

In 1988 in Poland, “The March of the Living” was created, where thousands of participants walk the three kilometres from Auschwitz I to Birkenau on Yom HaShoah and take part in a memorial ceremony. You can read reflections from the Regional Ambassadors that attended the March this year here.

Zikaron BaSalon event in 2023

Another initiative often used to mark Yom HaShoah is hosting a Zikaron BaSalon (Hebrew for “Remembrance in the Living Room”). It involves informal groups coming together to hear from a Holocaust survivor, to reflect and connect to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. The Holocaust Educational Trust has hosted Zikaron BaSalon events over the past couple of years, alongside Her Excellency Mrs Tzipi Hotovely, Ambassador of Israel to the United Kingdom. This year, Ambassadors heard from the inspiring survivor Janine Webber BEM.

Yom HaShoah is commemorated on all scales and in many different ways, from personal or local gatherings to larger-scale events similar to those hosted on Holocaust Memorial Day on 27th January (including several live-streamed ceremonies, you can watch the UK ceremony here). In recent years, more projects have been established, including the Yellow Candle Project, which our Creative Team have written about here, and a two-minute silence at 11am on Yom HaShoah.

Yom HaShoah continues to be a day of commemoration of the Jewish men, women and children who were murdered in the Holocaust — a commemoration that reaches all over the world.

By Zoe Porter and Curtis Burbidge