JERUSALEM -- President Obama paid tribute to the victims of the Holocaust in a solemn visit Friday to the national Yad Vashem memorial, drawing lessons for today from that dark period in history.
Standing beside a memorial to the children who perished, Obama said the lives memorialized at Yad Vashem should inspire people to resist racism, bigotry and hatred wherever they encounter it.
"Here we learn that we are never powerless,” Obama told a small gathering on a mount overlooking Jerusalem. “In our lives we have choices, to succumb to our worst instincts or to summon the better angels of our nature. … We have a choice to acquiesce to evil or make real our solemn vow -- never again.”
After he spoke, a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp offered a comparison between the Nazi genocide of the Jews and the looming Iranian nuclear threat, suggesting that Obama must help protect the Jewish people.
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Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, told Obama and his entourage about a Buchenwald liberator who sought him out 68 years after the war and asked his forgiveness “for being late.”
“Don’t be too late,” Lau then said to Obama, clearly alluding to discussions between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about how close Iran is to developing a nuclear weapon and when diplomacy should give way to military action.
As Lau spoke, Obama smiled and nodded.
With his first presidential visit to Israel, Obama tried to quell concerns about his commitment to the Jewish state and its historic ties to the land of Israel.
After spending two days spelling it out in public remarks and in symbolic acts, Obama on Friday morning laid a stone at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, fulfilling a top request of his Israeli hosts.
After visiting Yad Vashem (literally, "a memorial and a name"), Obama had a working lunch with Netanyahu.
Afterward, he was to tour the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, then depart for Jordan. He returns to Washington on Saturday.