President Obama's great-uncle, Charles Payne, dies at 89

President Barack Obama's great uncle Charles Payne and his wife Melanie, leave after celebrations marking the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp outside Weimar April 11, 2010.


President Obama's "Uncle Charlie," Charles Payne, died in Chicago earlier this month, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Payne was the brother of Madelyn Payne Dunham, Mr. Obama's maternal grandmother, who helped raise him in Kansas.

Mr. Obama once mentioned Payne during a 2008 event on Memorial Day when he was discussing the importance of improving treatment for soldiers who suffered from post-traumatic stress.

"I had an uncle who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps. The story in our family was that when he came home, he just went up into the attic and he didn't leave the house for six months," Mr. Obama said about his great-uncle. "Now, obviously something had really affected him, but at that time there just weren't the kinds of facilities to help somebody work through that kind of pain."

The Republican National Committee seized on the comment because Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz, not American troops. Mr. Obama's campaignlater released a statement saying he misspoke, and that Payne had helped liberate a sub-camp of Buchenwald in April 1945 as part of the 89th Infantry division.

Payne later told the Associated Press that his great-nephew probably heard the story from his grandparents, "whose grasp of geography wasn't always the firmest," according to the Sun-Times.

The following year, Payne accompanied Mr. Obama to Normandy for the anniversary of D-Day.

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama's half-aunt on his father's side, Zeituni Onyango, died at the age of 61.

  • Rebecca Kaplan

    Rebecca Kaplan is a political reporter for