Emhoff says somber Auschwitz visit key to antisemitism work

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U.S. Second Gentleman, Douglas Emhoff, speaks to the press as he visits to the Oskar Schindler Enamel Factory Museum in Krakow, Poland, Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)

KRAKOW – Doug Emhoff, the husband of U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, said he was deeply moved by a “solemn and sad” visit to the former site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, describing it Saturday as an important part of his work combating antisemitism for the Biden administration.

Emhoff told reporters he would never forget his emotional Friday visit to the memorial and museum at the site in Poland, where he saw children's shoes and human hair stripped from people before they were killed in the Nazi German camp. Some 1.1 million people were killed there during World War II, around 90% of them Jews.

“I feel a deep connection to all those who perished in Auschwitz,” he said in opening remarks during a roundtable discussion in Krakow on antisemitism. “I know many American Jews feel the same way.”

Friday was the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the camp on Jan. 27, 1945, with observances which the second gentleman joined. He paid tribute to victims at an execution wall and placed a candle near the ruins of crematoria where hundreds of thousands of Jews were burned after being killed.

He followed that visit with other visits that helped him learn more about the tragic fate of Jews in Europe. On Saturday, he toured the Oskar Schindler Enamel Factory in Krakow, where he saw an exhibit about “Schindler’s List,” the 1,000 Jews saved by the German industrialist during the Holocaust.

Emhoff is the first Jewish spouse of either a U.S. president or vice president. He is on a six-day tour of Poland and Germany meant to further the Biden administration's work combating antisemitism and to deepen ties with U.S. partners.

He also visited a new center run by the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, where he was briefed about its efforts to help Ukrainian refugees. Emhoff approached a group of Ukrainian woman doing arts and crafts at a table and told them that he wanted to let them know on behalf of the U.S. president and vice president that “we are going to support” Ukrainians.

During the roundtable at Krakow's Galicia Jewish Museum, he described antisemitism as a growing problem in the United States and across the world.

He denounced “so-called” leaders who use antisemitism to promote their agendas and those who lack the courage to confront them at a time of murderous attacks on Jewish communities, hateful threats and antisemitic lies.

“People used to be afraid to say the ugly epithets and lies out loud. Now, they are literally screaming them. We are witnessing an epidemic of hate in the United States and internationally,” Emhoff said.

He did not cite any specific incidents. But in recent months, former President Donald Trump hosted Nick Fuentes, a Holocaust-denying white supremacist, at his Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida; the rapper Ye, formerly known as Kanye West, expressed love for Adolf Hitler in an interview; basketball star Kyrie Irving appeared to promote an antisemitic film on social media.

Neo-Nazi trolls, meanwhile, are clamoring to return to Twitter as new CEO Elon Musk grants “amnesty” to suspended accounts.