White House stands against 'poison' of anti-Semitism on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Second gentleman Douglas Emhoff joined international leaders at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to remember victims and honour survivors

US Vice President Kamala Harris's husband, Douglas Emhoff laid flowers at the Death Wall at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi German concentration camp. Photo: EPA
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US President Joe Biden condemned a surge in hate-fuelled and anti-Semitic violence, while second gentleman Douglas Emhoff visited Auschwitz on Friday to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The President plans to take a moment of pause to mourn the six million Jews "who were systematically and savagely murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust", as well as the Nazis other victims — including people with disabilities, political dissidents and LGBTQ+ individuals.

Mr Biden called out a recent surge in right-wing violence and anti-Semitic hate speech that has rocked US discourse in recent months and urged the need to better live up to the promise of "never again".

"Today, across our country, we are seeing swastikas on cars, anti-Semitic banners on bridges, verbal and physical attacks against Jewish businesses and Jewish Americans — even Holocaust denialism. It’s vile," Mr Biden said.

He pointed to the deadly 2017 alt-right and Nazi "Unite the Right" march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where predominantly white male participants chanted "Jews will not replace us".

"Seeing neo-Nazis and white nationalists march from the shadows in Charlottesville in 2017, spewing the same anti-Semitic bile we heard in the 1930s in Europe, drove me to run for president," he added.

Mr Emhoff, Vice President Kamala Harris's husband, participated in a commemoration ceremony at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland on Friday.

The commemoration ceremony marked the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the extermination camps.

The White House said the ceremony's theme, "Auschwitz did not fall from the sky", draws from the words of survivor Marian Turski and aims at highlighting "the process of planning, creating, and expanding the system of dehumanisation and genocide at Auschwitz and Birkenau".

Mr Emhoff is the first Jewish spouse of a sitting US vice president, and has been at the forefront of the White House's fight against anti-Semitism.

His own family came to America after fleeing persecution in Poland in the 19th century.

Wearing a yarmulke, the second gentleman solemnly walked under the Auschwitz gates bearing the phrase "Arbeit Macht Frei" (work makes you free).

He was seen wiping his eyes at a wreath-laying ceremony at the camp's Death Wall, where Nazi officer shot and killed thousands of prisoners between 1941-1943.

The second gentleman will later attend a Shabbat dinner hosted by the Jewish Community Center with members of the Krakow Jewish community, the White House said.

Mr Emhoff is also visiting Berlin, Germany "to co-ordinate international efforts to combat anti-Semitism", Mr Biden said in his statement.

A recent poll from J Street, a non-profit organisation that focuses on Jewish-American voters and is a self-branded “pro-Israel, pro-peace” organisation, found that 97 per cent of Jewish people in the US are concerned about the rise in anti-Semitism.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the White House call to honour survivors and their descendants, and the need to keep the stories and lessons of Holocaust alive as the survivor generation ages into history.

"We must find new ways to educate future generations about the Holocaust. The testimonies of survivors and their descendants remind us to be vigilant in defending the dignity and human rights of all," Mr Blinken said.

"On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we resolve to counter lies with facts and hatred with action in service of our common humanity," he added.

Updated: January 27, 2023, 2:49 PM