This International Holocaust Remembrance Day, government officials from various countries gathered at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to remember victims and honor survivors.
Among them, for the first time, was the first Jewish spouse of a U.S. president or vice president.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff is visiting Krakow, Poland and Berlin this week to promote both Holocaust awareness and the Biden administration’s efforts to combat antisemitism.
His trip will include a stop at Oskar Schindler’s factory, a Shabbat dinner with a local Jewish community, a meeting with Ukrainian refugees, a roundtable with interfaith leaders and visits to several museums and other historical sites.
And it’s more about listening and trading ideas than delivering any specific policies, senior administration officials told reporters on a Wednesday call. Emhoff — whose great grandparents fled persecution from modern-day Poland in the early 19th century — has been at the forefront of the Biden administration’s efforts to address growing antisemitism in recent months.”
The visit certainly has a special significance … for him, for our administration, for American Jews and, frankly, Jews all around the world,” an official said. “And it’s not lost on us that it’s a pretty incredible moment for him to return as an American Jew, as the first second gentleman … and work on these issues.”
A day after arriving in Krakow, Emhoff headed about 40 miles west to Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial to tour the site of the concentration camp, including a gas chamber and crematorium.
Emhoff, wearing a yarmulke, placed a wreath at the reconstructed Death Wall, where guards executed thousands of prisoners between 1941 and 1943.
Emhoff wiped back tears several times, tugging at the wreath’s ribbons, which said “from the people of the United States.” After touring the ruins of Birkenau, Emhoff placed a stone on the ground, in line with Jewish tradition.
He and Deborah Lipstadt, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, joined Holocaust survivors and other officials at a ceremony commemorating the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camp. (NPR)