Friday, June 05, 2009

Obama, Reagan, Jews and Nazis

As the Great Communicator is canonized with a new statue in Washington, his 21st century counterpart is in Germany dealing with the same thorny issue his predecessor faced there a quarter of a century ago.

On his way to Buchenwald, President Obama speaks feelingly about his great-uncle's trauma in World War II over what the Nazis had done to six million Jews, as skeptics see the trip as a sop to those unnerved by his emphasis on a two-state solution for Palestinians during his Cairo speech and his pressure on Israel to stop expanding settlements.

In 1985, Ronald Reagan took flak for visiting a military cemetery in Bitburg, paying homage to the new Germany at the graves of SS members who headed Hitler's execution squads.

In his authorized biography, Edmund Morris describes Reagan's trip to a death camp soon afterward to placate incensed Jewish groups and his claim that he had witnessed the liberation of such places during the war. Given the Great Communicator's tendency to dramatize, it turned out that all he had actually seen was movie footage at the Army training film unit where he served.

Now Obama is explaining his Buchenwald stop by saying "this one has a personal connection to me," telling reporters that his grandmother's brother came home in shock over what he saw there as a young soldier.

With German Chancellor Angela Merkel and survivor Elie Wiesel at his side, the President today said, "These sights have not lost their horror with the passage of time. 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.”

In a world of widespread Holocaust deniers, bearing witness has meaning, whatever the motives.

1 comment:

(O)CT(O)PUS said...

A message lost, no doubt, on arch anti-Semite Almandine-Jihad. Of course, I had an even closer connection: All my great grandparents died in the Holocaust.