A Tearful Doug Emhoff Visits Auschwitz
“Standing silent is not an option. Indeed, silence is what allows vile oppressors to thrive and this malicious virus of hate to grow.”
Wearing a yarmulke and visibly emotional, Jewish Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff visited Auschwitz Birkenau on 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 honour the victims of the Holocaust and raise awareness of the rise of antisemitism in the US and abroad. Following the visit, Emhoff, along with Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt who serves as Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism, travelled 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 US ambassador to Poland Mark Brzezinski. The four closed their eyes in silent contemplation after placing the flames on the monument.
Emhoff left a wreath “from the people of the United States of America,” wiping away tears from his eyes as he turned away.
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I visited Auschwitz to honor the memories of those murdered because of hate and antisemitism. pic.twitter.com/jmDScnkXmy
— Douglas Emhoff (@SecondGentleman) 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.
That evening, Emhoff joined leaders in Krakow’s Jewish community for a Shabbat dinner, then headed to Oskar Schindler’s enamel factory. In Berlin, visited a synagogue and memorials in the German capitol, including the famous Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. He also met with faith leaders, Ukrainian refugees, antisemitism experts and Holocaust survivors.
Emhoff 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.”
Everyone wants to know where they are from. My ancestors were likely from Gorlice, Poland. The town’s Jewish community was exterminated in the Holocaust, yet today the town’s leaders are working to honor the lives lost and remember the past, setting an example for us all. pic.twitter.com/FNlnIhTWCo
— Douglas Emhoff (@SecondGentleman) January 30, 2023
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 US. 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 was to promote Holocaust education and understanding, in an attempt to not normalise 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.”