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Obama Highlights Military’s Role in Ending, Remembering Holocaust

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 23, 2009 – President Barack Obama today highlighted the role American World War II veterans played in bringing about the end of the Holocaust and preserving its memory.

Obama spoke at a Capitol Hill ceremony designed to mourn the 6 million who died and to honor the survivors and celebrate those who liberated victims of the Nazi regime. He noted the lasting impact of a decision by Army Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who oversaw the invasion of France and Germany in 1944 and 1945 as supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe.

“The story goes that when the Americans marched in, they discovered the starving survivors and the piles of dead bodies, and General Eisenhower made a decision,” Obama said. “He ordered Germans from the nearby town to tour the camp so they could see what had been done in their name. And he ordered American troops to tour the camp so they could see the evil they were fighting against.”

Eisenhower’s next move, Obama said, was to invite congressmen and journalists to further document the moment in history.

“He ordered that photographs and films be made. Some of us have seen those same images. … They never leave you,” Obama said. “What Eisenhower did to record these crimes for history is what we are doing here today.”

The president described his great uncle, a soldier in the Army’s 89th Infantry Division, as traumatized by his experience in World War II.

“[He] returned from his service in World War II in a state of shock, saying little, alone with painful memories that would not leave his head,” the president said. “He went up into the attic, according to the stories that I've heard, and wouldn't come down for six months. He was one of the liberators, someone who at a very tender age had seen the unimaginable.”

Soldiers of the 89th Infantry Division were the first Americans to reach a Nazi concentration camp, and liberated Ordruf, part of the infamous Buchenwald camp, where tens of thousands perished, Obama said.

Given the gravity of his great uncle’s experience, Obama said, he understands the impulse to remain silent, but he reiterated the importance of bearing witness to the horrors of the Holocaust.

“Eisenhower understood the danger of silence. He understood that if no one knew what had happened, that would be yet another atrocity, and it would be the perpetrators' ultimate triumph,” Obama said.

Observing such injustice creates a moral obligation to take action, the president said. He cited 21st-century examples that show “evil has yet to run its course on Earth” -- mass graves, charred villages, child soldiers and the use of rape as a war tactic -- underscoring the need to “commit ourselves to resisting injustice and intolerance and indifference.”

“That is my commitment as president,” he said. “I hope that is yours as well.”

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