Obama at Holocaust Memorial: In Face of Rising anti-Semitism, We Are All Jews

In first of its kind ceremony at Israeli embassy, U.S. president joins Yad Vashem to posthumously recognize four individuals who heroically risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazis.

President Barack Obama speaks at the Righteous Among the Nations Award Ceremony at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016.
AP

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday at a special Holocaust ceremony at the Israeli Embassy in Washington D.C., and said that "anti-Semitism is on the rise, we cannot deny it."

"When we see Jews leaving Europe and attacks on Jewish centers from Mumbai to Kansas; when we see swastikas appear on college campuses, we must not stay silent.

President Obama Speaks at the Righteous Among the Nations Award Ceremony White House YouTube

"When any Jew anywhere is targeted, we must all respond as if we are all Jewish we must all do what we can we have a responsibility, and as president I will make sure the U.S. is leading the fight against anti-Semitism," the president says.

The event honored four people, including Americans from Indiana and Tennessee, for risking their lives to protect Jews during the Holocaust, and is the first time such an event took place in the U.S.

Opening with a quote from the Talmud, Obama said "Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world," and praised the "courageous" stories of bravery told before he took the stage. The president further noted his personal experience at Yad Vashem and with survivors, which he said moved him deeply.

"Would we have the courage to act like them?" Obama asked, praising a U.S. soldier who said he was "just doing his job" when he told Nazis soldiers that "we are all Jews."

U.S. Army Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds. Edmonds, posthumously recognized as 'Righteous Among the Nations' - Israel's highest honor for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during World War II. He's the first American serviceman to earn the honor.
Courtesy of Yad Vashem via AP

In face of rising hatred, Obama said that "any attack on any faith is an attack on all our faiths," adding that "we are all indeed Jews."

Obama said the soldier had stayed true to his faith, citing the role his Christianity played in standing up for what was right.

Obama joined Jewish leaders and Yad Vashem officials at a ceremony where the Righteous Among the Nations medals were be presented posthumously. It's the first time the ceremony is being held in the United States. Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., said Obama's participation "was a worthy tribute to the worthiest among us."

The United Nations has designated Wednesday as International Holocaust Remembrance Day to commemorate the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp in 1945.

Americans Roddie Edmonds of Knoxville, Tennessee; Lois Gunden of Goshen, Indiana; and Polish citizens Walery and Maryla Zbijewski of Warsaw are being recognized by Yad Vashem for protecting Jews from harm during the Holocaust. Yad Vashem, based in Jerusalem, is the world's Holocaust education and research center.

Righteous Among the Nations is an official title awarded by Yad Vashem on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Master Sgt. Edmonds participated in the landing of U.S. forces in Europe and was taken prisoner by the Germans. When the Germans ordered all Jewish prisoners of war to report, Edmonds defied the order by figuring out how to keep the Jewish POWs from being singled out for persecution.

Gunden, a French teacher, established a children's home in southern France that became a safe haven for children, including Jewish children she helped smuggle out of a nearby internment camp. She protected the children when French police showed up at the home.

The Zbijewskis hid a Jewish child in their Warsaw home until the girl's mother could take her back.

Six million Jews were killed by Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust.

Last year, Obama said the international anniversary was an opportunity to reflect on progress "confronting this terrible chapter in human history" and on continued efforts to end genocide.

"Honoring the victims and survivors begins with our renewed recognition of the value and dignity of each person," Obama said in a written statement last January. "It demands from us the courage to protect the persecuted and speak out against bigotry and hatred."