At Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, a reaffirmation of life.


JERUSALEM – A long line of international dignitaries has visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and President Biden’s visit on Wednesday was not his first.

As Vice President in 2010, he toured the Holocaust History Museum, Hall of Names, Children’s Memorial and Hall of Remembrance, where he participated in a memorial ceremony, and where an eternal flame burns through a crypt containing the ashes of Holocaust victims, commemorates the six million Jews who were murdered by Nazi Germany and its associates during World War II.

At the time, Mr. Biden spoke movingly about how, as a young father, he had taken each of his sons at the age of 15 to Dachau, the Nazis’ first concentration camp. Founded in Germany in 1933, it was liberated by the US military 12 years later. Mr Biden said he would have wanted his sons to understand “humanity’s ability to be so cruel”.

This time, the presidential visit to Yad Vashem may be a resonant reaffirmation of the human spirit and ability to survive.

After arriving there on Wednesday, Mr. Biden wore a black skullcap and met Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan, a former settler leader who was Israel’s consul general in New York.

At a memorial ceremony, Mr. Biden rekindled the eternal flame. A children’s choir performed “Walk to Caesarea,” a 1942 poem by Hannah Szenes, a Hungarian Jewish resistance fighter in World War II. It was set to music in 1945, the year after Mrs. Szenes behind enemy lines was caught and executed.

A cantor also recited a Jewish prayer for the souls of the Nazi victims, and Mr. Biden was given a reminder: a replica of a painting made by a Holocaust survivor, Moshe Perl, immediately after the Dachau camp was liberated.

He wrote in the memorial’s visitor’s book: “We must never, never forget, because hate is never defeated, it only hides.”

The president and his delegation of US and Israeli officials also met two Holocaust survivors, Rena Quint and Giselle Cycowicz, who survived several concentration camps and immigrated to the United States after the war. Mrs. Quint, who was a young child during the Holocaust, and Mrs. Cycowicz, who was a young teenager, are part of a fading generation who can witness the Nazi atrocities.

As the two women sat on chairs, Mr. Biden knelt on their level, spoke to them for several minutes, folded their hands and kissed their cheeks — again deviating from a suggestion earlier in the day by his national security adviser that the president would physically avoiding contact, such as shaking hands during his four-day journey, citing the rapidly spreading novel coronavirus subvariant.

Afterwards, Mrs. Cycowicz, who is 95, said: “When I came to America, I didn’t know a soul there. And I’ve met so many friends and now I’m invited to meet the most important person in the world.” Mrs. Quint, who is 86, said, “Did you see the president hug me? He asked permission to kiss me and he kept holding my hand.”

Dayan had previously told Mr Biden that he feared — with the first lady, Jill Biden, not present — that the US leader would fall in love with the two women. Mr. Biden looked emotional and replied, “I have – they know!”

When he left, he blew them a kiss.

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