After coming under attack early in his presidency for ignoring the Jewish connection to the Holocaust, Donald Trump bent over backwards Tuesday, during the second day of his visit to Israel, to make amends.
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On a visit to Yad Vashem, the national Holocaust memorial center in Jerusalem, the American leader described the extermination of six million Jews during World War II as “history’s darkest hour” and “the most savage crime against God and his children.”
He made a point of noting that the Nazis had singled out the Jews for persecution. “Millions of innocent and wonderful and beautiful lives, women and children, were extinguished as part of a systematic attempt to eliminate the Jewish people,” he said.
The U.S. president was widely criticized when, in a statement issued in January on the occasion of International Holocaust Memorial Day, he left out any reference to the Jewish people. In April, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer sparked an uproar when he said that Adolf Hitler, unlike Syrian President Bashar Assad, “didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons” – ignoring that fact that millions of Jews were gassed to death by the Nazis.
Trump made his remarks at Yad Vashem after participating in a wreath-laying ceremony in its Hall of Remembrance. Unlike most foreign dignitaries, however, he did not visit the site’s world-renowned museum, which chronicles the history of the Holocaust.
During the visit, Trump was accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, First Lady Melania, his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner. Kushner is the grandson of Holocaust survivors.
Trump also used the opportunity to draw a connection between the Holocaust and the creation of a Jewish state. “This place and this entire nation,” he said, “are a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people and to the hope that light can shine the path beyond the darkness. Through persecution, oppression, death and destruction, the Jewish people have persevered. They have thrived, they have become so successful in so many places and they have enlightened the world. The State of Israel is a strong and soaring monument to the solemn pledge we repeat and affirm: Never again.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu complimented Trump on his speech, describing it as “incredibly moving.”
“Thank you for taking such a strong stand for Israel and the Jewish people,” the Israeli leader said. “It comes from the heart of all of us.”
At the conclusion of the visit, Trump was presented with a replica of a personal journal that belonged to Ester Goldstein, a 16-year-old Jewish girl murdered in the Holocaust. Attending the ceremony was Margot Herschenbaum, Ester’s sister and only surviving member of her family.
Goldstein, who was born in Germany, was among 800 Jews deported in October 1942 to Riga, Latvia, where they were shot to death in a forest. Her diary – the original copy of which is stored in Yad Vashem – includes photos, illustrations and dedications. Her first entry was made when she was 11 years old and her last, about a month before she was deported.