A powerful rebuke to Israel's enemies

After his pivotal Middle East speech, Obama pays his respects at the former Buchenwald concentration camp. Tony Paterson reports

Surrounded by the barbed wire of Buchenwald concentration camp, Barack Obama laid a white rose on a memorial to the 56,000 people murdered there by the Nazis yesterday. The US President, on his first ever visit to a concentration camp, and the first by any American President to Buchenwald, described it as the "ultimate rebuke" to Holocaust deniers.

Accompanied by Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Nobel peace prize-winner and Buchenwald survivor Elie Wiesel, his moving and symbolic visit was made in recognition of Jewish suffering during the Holocaust. It came just a day after his plea in Cairo for compromise in the Middle East.

"To this day there are those who insist that the Holocaust never happened. This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts," Mr Obama said in a remark aimed at Iran, whose President, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, has caused outrage by questioning whether 6 million Jews died during the Holocaust. "He should make his own visit," Mr Obama said of the Iranian President earlier.

After his tour of the camp crematorium ovens and watch towers, which left him visibly moved, he said that Buchenwald "teaches us that we must be ever vigilant about the spread of evil in our own time, that we must reject the false comfort that others' suffering is not our problem, and commit ourselves to resisting those who would subjugate others to serve their own interests".

The tens of thousands of Buchenwald inmates who perished at the hands of the Nazis from 1937 until 1945 died from starvation, torture, shooting or simply from being worked to death. More than 11,000 of the victims were Jews.

Located on a hill above Goethe's city of Weimar, the camp became infamous because of Ilse Koch, the commandant's wife who was renowned for ordering lampshades to be made out of the skin of murdered inmates. It was also one of the first to be liberated in 1945 by invading American troops.

Mr Obama's great uncle, Charles Payne, was a young soldier in the US Army's 89th Infantry Division which took part in the liberation of a Buchenwald sub-camp outside the town of Ohrdruf, some 25 miles away in April 1945. "In some sheds there were stacks of bodies, stripped... – most of them looked like they had starved to death," Mr Payne recalled in an interview this week. "They had sprinkled lime over them to keep the smell down and stacked them several feet high."

Mr Payne's experiences exerted a powerful influence on Mr Obama who learned of them as a boy. The President said they were one of the chief reasons for his decision to visit the camp. "I have never travelled to concentration camp. This one has a personal connection," he said.

Yesterday Mr Obama was shown where American soldiers found some 900 starving children when they arrived to liberate Buchenwald. Among them was Mr Wiesel, who witnessed his father die on the bunk above him in a vermin-infested camp hut when he was a child. "It was the darkest day of my life," Mr Wiesel recalled yesterday.

The President then went on to visit the American military hospital at Landstuhl in Germany, which has treated hundreds of US troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, before travelling to Normandy for the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Earlier, Mr Obama and Ms Merkel toured the Church of Our Lady in Dresden, destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. Mr Obama gently reprimanded the German media for playing up a perceived rift with Ms Merkel. "Your characterisation of 'wild speculations' is accurate – they are very wild and based on no facts," he joked, adding that the US-German relationship was "outstanding".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk