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At Buchenwald, Obama Blasts Holocaust Deniers


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

One day after President Obama addressed the Muslim world from Cairo, he toured Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. An estimated 56,000 people, many of them Jews, died there, killed by the Nazis. Mr. Obama toured the camp with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel. Also joining them, Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Prize winner who survived Buchenwald as a teenager.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports on a somber day with the president.

DON GONYEA: Buchenwald stands as a monument to the memory of what happened here. The president, Chancellor Merkel and Elie Wiesel walked through the massive, wrought-iron gate that is the entryway to the camp. Past the rubble and foundations of barracks, they laid yellow roses on a memorial to the survivors. They saw the crematorium. They stopped and looked at a photo where a building once stood. It is a picture of young men - prisoners, emaciated, staring from their bunks. One of them is a 16-year-old Elie Wiesel. Afterward, President Obama spoke to reporters.

President BARACK OBAMA: Now, these sites have not lost their horror with the passage of time. As we were walking up, Elie said if these trees could talk. And there's a certain irony about the beauty of the landscape and the horror that took place here. More than half a century later, our grief and our outrage over what happened have not diminished. I will not forget what I have seen here today.

GONYEA: The president spoke of how his own great uncle, his grandmother's brother, was a member of the U.S. 89th Infantry, which liberated Buchenwald and nearby smaller camps. He said his uncle was so shocked by what he saw that day, that he had serious problems just trying to adjust after the war. And the president spoke of how U.S. Commander General Eisenhower ordered photographs and films of the camps taken to create a record so that no one would ever be able to forget or deny what had happened.

Pres. OBAMA: To this day, there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened, a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts.

GONYEA: That echoed a line from his speech to the Muslim world delivered in Cairo yesterday. The president concluded by turning to Elie Wiesel. Behind him as he spoke, the camp gate and clock tower, the hands of which are permanently set at 3:15 - the exact time that the camp was liberated on that day in April of 1945. Wiesel survived Buchenwald - his father did not. He spoke about that.

Mr. ELIE WIESEL (Writer, Nobel Laureate): The day he died was one of the darkest in my life. He became sick, weak, and I was there. I was there when he suffered. I was there when he asked for help, for water. I was there to receive his last words, but I was not there when he called for me, although we were on the same block - he on the upper bed, and I on the lower bed. He called my name, and I was too afraid to move. All of us were. And then he died. I was there, but I was not there.

GONYEA: Wiesel asked what he could tell his father about the world today and the lessons learned. He said he's not so sure. He said he has hopes for the new American president.

Mr. WIESEL: Thank you, Mr. President, for allowing me to come back to my father's grave, which is still in my heart.

GONYEA: Don Gonyea, NPR News, Buchenwald. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.