With a long-stemmed white rose in his hand, President Obama walked silently across the grounds of a Nazi killing field in Germany today. He placed the rose on a memorial gravestone to the estimated 56,000 who perished at Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
(AP Photo/Oliver Multhaup)
The president was accompanied on his solemn visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Wiesel was a teenage prisoner at this camp, which claimed the life of his father, 64 years ago.
"The day he died was one of the darkest in my life," Wiesel recalled of his father's death in 1945. "He became sick, weak, and I was there."
The Buchenwald visit today by marked an opportunity for the president to recall the unspeakable inhumanity inflicted by the Nazis on the 250,000 people who were prisoners at the camp.
"More than half a century later, our grief and our outrage over what happened have not diminished," said Mr. Obama. "I will not forget what I've seen here today."
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Photo Essay: Obama In Germany. (AP)
No one ever does.
Mr. Obama recalled the emotional trauma suffered by his great uncle, part of the American forces that liberated Ohrdruf, one of Buchenwald's 130 sub-camps.
"He returned from his service in a state of shock saying little and isolating himself for months on end from family and friends, alone with the painful memories that would not leave his head," the president said.
One who did not remain silent about the horrors of Buchenwald, was legendary CBS News Correspondent Edward R. Murrow.
"Murder had been done at Buchenwald," Murrow said in his report soon after the camp's liberation. "God alone knows how many men and boys have died there during the last 12 years. Thursday, I was told that there were more than 20,000 in the camp. There had been as many as 60,000. Where are they now?"
Murrow knew his descriptions of cruelty and death defied belief.
"I pray you to believe what I have said about Buchenwald," he said. "I reported what I saw and heard, but only part of it. For most of it, I have no words."
President Obama struck a similar note at the end of his visit today, speaking defiantly about those who deny the Holocaust took place.
"This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts; a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history," he said.
Mr. Obama spoke of the genocides the world has seen since the horrors of the Nazis. He spoke of mass graves and ashes of villages burned to the ground; of children used as soldiers and rape used as a weapon of war.
"This place teaches us that we must be ever vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time, that we must reject the false comfort that others' suffering is not our problem and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests," he said.
But Wiesel questions whether the world has learned the lessons of Buchenwald.
"Had the world learned," Wiesel said in gentle, mournful remarks, "there would have been no Cambodia and no Rwanda and no Darfur and no Bosnia."
"Will the world ever learn?" asked Wiesel, who lived through a time, he said, when "it was human to be inhuman."
Perhaps anticipating Wiesel's plaintiff question, President Obama offered a commitment after his walk through the camp that included a visit to the crematorium where the bodies of slain prisoners were burned.
"It is up to us to bear witness; to ensure that the world continues to note what happened here; to remember all those who survived and all those who perished, and to remember them not just as victims, but also as individuals who hoped and loved and dreamed just like us," he said.
And words of similar determination were spoken by German Chancellor Merkel.
"It is therefore incumbent upon us Germans to show an unshakeable resolve to do everything we can so that something like this never happens again," she said.
But all visitors to Buchenwald leave with the realization that the cries of "never again" have yet to be redeemed.
Click here to read the full remarks from Mr. Obama, Merkel and Wiesel.
(AP Photo/Oliver Multhaup)
Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent. You can read more of his posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow him on Twitter here: http://twitter.com/markknoller.
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