Saturday 20 January 2018

Solemn duty to remember Holocaust victims, says Donald Trump on memorial visit

Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (AP)
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (AP)
Donald and Melania Trump lay a wreath at Yad Vashem to honour the victims of the Holocaust (AP)

Donald Trump has paid a short visit to Israel's national Holocaust memorial, calling the Nazi extermination of six million Jews "the most savage crime against God and his children".

The US president had come under criticism for planning just a brief half-hour stop at Yad Vashem, following a series of missteps by his administration on issues of concern to the Jewish American community - such as inadequately denouncing the anti-Semitic rhetoric of some of his supporters and appearing cavalier at times about the Holocaust.

But he pleased his hosts during the most sensitive stop on his two-day visit to Israel by taking a strong stand in expressing sympathy for Holocaust victims and support for the Jewish state.

In a solemn ceremony, Mr Trump rekindled the memorial's eternal flame and laid a wreath in honour for the six million victims. A children's choir sang and a cantor recited a special prayer for the dead.

In brief comments, Mr Trump called the Holocaust "history's darkest hour".

"Millions of wonderful and beautiful lives - men, women and children - were extinguished as part of a systematic attempt to eliminate the Jewish people," he said.

"It is our solemn duty to remember, to mourn, to grieve and to honour every single life that was so cruelly and viciously taken."

Nearly all foreign leaders make a pilgrimage to Yad Vashem's vast complex in Jerusalem during official trips to Israel and most visits typically last about an hour and a half, and include a tour of the museum.

Mr Trump's team allotted 30 minutes to Yad Vashem, citing the busy schedule of his 27-hour stay in Israel.

In an inscription in the memorial's guest book, he wrote, in capital letters: "IT IS A GREAT HONOR TO BE HERE WITH ALL OF MY FRIENDS - SO AMAZING AND WILL NEVER FORGET!"

Looking on and holding hands were Mr Trump's daughter Ivanka, a convert to Judaism, and son-in-law Jared Kushner, whose grandparents were Holocaust survivors.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Mr Trump for a speech "that in so few words said so much". He said Israel must be able "to defend itself by itself" and praised the president's commitment to Israel's security.

Yad Vashem played down any controversy over the length of the trip, saying official visits are "not standardised by protocol" and each is "unique and personalsed".

Mr Trump has come under fire for appearing to play to Jewish stereotypes during his presidential campaign and for being slow to speak out against anti-Semitism in America.

His administration famously refrained from mentioning the murder of Jews in a Holocaust commemoration statement in January, and his spokesman compared Adolf Hitler favourably to Syrian President Bashar Assad last month.

After Sean Spicer told reporters that Hitler "didn't even sink to using chemical weapons" - a remark that ignored Hitler's use of gas chambers to exterminate Jews during the Holocaust - Yad Vashem invited Mr Spicer to visit its website to educate himself.

But recently, Mr Trump has made an effort to change these impressions. Last month, he visited the US Holocaust Museum and described how "six million Jews had been brutally slaughtered" in a proclamation marking the week-long Days of Remembrance of Victims of the Holocaust.

He also called the Nazi genocide of Jews "the darkest chapter of human history" in a speech to the World Jewish Congress.


Press Association

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