Wearing a yarmulke and visibly emotional, Jewish Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff visited Auschwitz Birkenau today — International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and the anniversary of the liberation of the death camp.
The visit was part of a six-day European tour, led by Emhoff, to honor the victims of the Holocaust and raise awareness of the rise of antisemitism in the U.S. and abroad. After he leaves Poland, Emhoff, along with Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt who serves as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, will travel to Berlin to speak with leaders there.
“As we reflect on history, we know that the bigotry that fueled the Holocaust did not end when the camps were liberated. Antisemitism may be considered one of the oldest forms of hatred, but its insidious impact and its deep dangers are not relegated to the past,” Lipstatdt and Emhoff wrote in an op-ed for JTA.
At his visit to Auschwitz, Emhoff lit candles at the Monument to the Victims of Fascism with Lipstadt, the Department of State’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues Ellen Germain, and U.S. ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski. The four closed their eyes in silent contemplation after placing the flames on the monument.
Today marks 78 years since Auschwitz was liberated. pic.twitter.com/H6Jdexq2c1
— Shelley Greenspan (@ShelleyGspan) January 27, 2023
Emhoff left a wreath “from the people of the United States of America,” wiping away tears from his eyes as he turned away.
.@SecondGentleman Doug Emhoff, wearing a kippah, wipes away tears as he lays a wreath with a sash saying “from the people of the United States of America” against a wall at Auschwitz where the SS shot thousands pic.twitter.com/qOxJeFOtxz
— Jordan Fabian (@Jordanfabian) January 27, 2023
The Second Gentleman also placed a stone at the site of the crematorium, following the Jewish tradition of placing stones on graves.
At Birkenau, @SecondGentleman places a stone at the ruins of a crematorium. It's a Jewish mourning custom, in lieu of leaving flowers.
— Gabby Deutch (@GSDeutch) January 27, 2023
Tonight Emhoff will join leaders in Krakow’s Jewish community for a Shabbat dinner. Tomorrow, he will be heading to Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory. In Berlin, he will visit a synagogue and memorials in the German capitol, including the famous Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. He’ll also be meeting with faith leaders, Ukrainian refugees, antisemitism experts and Holocaust survivors. You can read the full itinerary on JTA.
This visit to Auschwitz was the kickoff to Emhoff’s tour, and it’s clear he was incredibly emotional as he walked through the place where over a million people were killed during the Holocaust — the majority of them Jews.
“It’s the little things though, they have displays of children’s shoes, they have the glasses that they took off of the bodies, they have women’s hair,” Emhoff told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “They have all these things that make it so real, and for those folks who would deny that it happened, see what we just saw — it’s as real as it gets.”
This visit is also personal for Emhoff, telling Joe Scarborough, “I learned just last year, I got to see the ship ledger for when my father’s grandfather and his family came from Poland. Part of this visit […] is just to see where I came from.”
This visit, on the 78th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation, is a historic one. Emhoff is the first Jewish vice presidential spouse in the U.S. Yet despite this historic fact, Holocaust education is at an all-time low in the country, and antisemitism incidents are growing in numbers.
“They’re not just saying the quiet part, they’re screaming it,” Emhoff said about the rise of antisemitism in America.
Much of this visit is to promote Holocaust education and understanding, in an attempt to not normalize the current rise of antisemitism. “In the face of evil, there is no neutrality,” Lipstadt and Emhoff wrote today, quoting Elie Wiesel. “Standing silent is not an option. Indeed, silence is what allows vile oppressors to thrive and this malicious virus of hate to grow.”