- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 6, 2009

DRESDEN, Germany | President Obama on Friday used visits to some of the grimmest landmarks of World War II to call for strengthened international cooperation, declaring that the “horror” of the Buchenwald concentration camp was the “ultimate rebuke” to Holocaust deniers.

The emotional visits to a castle and church fire-bombed by the United States 64 years ago and to the now-bucolic spot where thousands perished in a Nazi death camp gave Mr. Obama an opportunity to renew his call for Middle East peace.

Flanked by famed Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr. Obama decried all “intolerance” — from anti-Semitism and racism to homophobia and sexism.

“These sites have not lost their horror in the passage of time,” Mr. Obama said under gray skies in Buchenwald. “Our grief and our outrage over what happened have not diminished. I will not forget what I’ve seen here today.”

Aides said the visit to the death camp built on the message at the heart of Mr. Obama’s speech Thursday in Cairo to the Muslim world — where he also denounced Holocaust deniers.

National Security Adviser James L. Jones told reporters that World War II and the liberation of the camps “still serve as a beacon of reminder and warning to us all.”

Mr. Obama is the first American president to visit the camp. Former President George W. Bush visited Auschwitz in May 2003.

The Anti-Defamation League, a group dedicated to combating anti-Semitism, said in a statement Friday that Mr. Obama’s visit to Germany sent a “powerful message about the importance of remembrance, about the commitment to stand against evil and to fight against genocide wherever it appears.”

At Buchenwald, Mr. Obama said those who pretend the genocide didn’t happen offer “a denial of fact and truth that is baseless and ignorant and hateful.”

The president praised Mrs. Merkel for taking part in the ceremony, noting, “It’s not easy to look into the past in this way.”

Earlier, the German leader offered her own praise for the new president’s speech in Cairo, saying it had “opened up the door to the Arab world again” and helped the peace process. German leaders, who opposed the Iraq war, were often at odds with Mr. Bush, who was deeply unpopular here.

“Yesterday’s speech in a way opened up also the door to the Arab world again,” Mrs. Merkel said, without directly criticizing Mr. Bush. Mrs. Merkel herself had a good working relationship with the Republican president in his second term.

During a joint news conference at a Dresden castle built in the 13th century, Mr. Obama announced that George Mitchell, his special envoy for the Middle East, will embark on another trip there next week with hopes of building on the pledges contained in the Cairo address.

He said his administration’s commitment to Middle East diplomacy in the first five months of his presidency had already borne fruit, adding he believes the early talks, the Cairo speech and Mr. Mitchell’s trip have laid the groundwork for making “serious progress this year.”

“That’s sent a signal to all the parties in the Middle East that we are serious,” he said. “Given what we’ve done so far, we’ve at least created the space, the atmosphere, in which talks can restart.”

Mr. Obama said Washington will need Germany and other allies to help foster a “frank dialogue” with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to “clear away some of the misunderstandings.”

“Ultimately,” he said, “the United States can’t force peace upon the parties.”

Mr. Obama and Mrs. Merkel repeated a call for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, and also discussed Iran’s nuclear programs and the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, which Berlin wants closed.

Mr. Obama has pledged to close the prison by January, but has yet to detail where the detainees will go and whether other countries will be willing to take some of the inmates. He said he did not ask Mrs. Merkel for Germany’s help in taking some of the suspected terrorists held at Guantanamo.

“We have not asked her for hard commitments, and she has not given us any hard commitments beyond having a serious discussion about … ways that we can solve this problem,” Mr. Obama.

“We’ll be looking at individual cases; seeing are there people who can safely be transferred; if they are safely transferred, where would they be transferred to,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s going to take some time.”

Mrs. Merkel said she is “absolutely confident” the “very intensive discussions” will result in the right solution for relocating the detainees.

At Buchenwald, after placing white roses at two memorials, Mr. Obama said he was carrying the memories of his great uncle who helped to liberate the concentration camp 64 years ago.

Charlie Payne, the president’s grand uncle on his mother’s side, will join Mr. Obama on Saturday in Normandy, France, to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Mr. Wiesel, who traveled with the president on Air Force One, may also participate.

Mr. Payne served with the 89th Infantry Division and took part in the liberation of the “work camp” of Ohrdruf, one of Buchenwald’s satellite sites.

Mr. Obama said his great-uncle returned to Kansas in a state of shock from what he had seen in the war and the camps. But the president also reminded his audience that Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower insisted that U.S. soldiers, dignitaries and visiting American officials see the camps personally, because “there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to propaganda.”

Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said that Mr. Obama “felt that it was an important visit, particularly in light of his visit to Normandy tomorrow, to go there and to remember the monstrous acts” that took place before the liberation.

Mr. Wiesel, whose father died at Buchenwald in 1945, thanked the president for giving him the opportunity to visit his father’s grave and told the story of his father’s death in the camp when he was just a boy.

“He called my name, and I was too afraid to move. All of us were. And then he died,” Mr. Wiesel said. “I thought, one day I will come back and speak to him, and tell him of the world that has become mine.”

He offered a message of peace, condemning wars and racism.

“Enough,” Mr. Wiesel said. “There must come a moment of bringing people together. Memory must bring people together rather than set them apart.”

Mr. Obama also flew to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Ramstein Air Base to award six Purple Heart medals and meet with wounded troops and their families. While there he also met with troops from Poland and Britain.

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