JERUSALEM – Israel used the solemn occasion of Monday’s annual Holocaust memorial day to call on the world to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and to draw new attention to the plight of the dwindling number of survivors.

The wail of air raid sirens pierced the air for two minutes as the country came to a standstill in a yearly ritual remembering the 6 million Jews who perished in World War II. People stood at attention and traffic halted during the moment of silence, as radio stations played mournful music throughout the day.

Israel was built on the ashes of the Holocaust, and preserving the memory of the Nazi genocide plays a central role in the country’s identity.

At the memorial’s opening ceremony late Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to draw parallels to the rise of Nazi Germany and the development of Iran’s nuclear program.

Israel, like the West, believes Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and Netanyahu derided the world’s response to curbing Tehran’s atomic ambitions as limp.

“If we have learned anything from the Holocaust, it is that we must not be silent or be deterred in the face of evil,” Netanyahu said.

Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat, underscored by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s repeated references to the Jewish state’s destruction and Tehran’s support for anti-Israeli militant groups. Israel has hinted at taking military action against Iran if diplomacy fails.

The Yad Vashem memorial authority picked “Voices of the Survivors” as the theme of this year’s commemoration. Sixty-five years after World War II, about 207,000 aging survivors, many of them destitute and alone, live in Israel, down 63,000 from just two years earlier.