Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner place a wreath at Israel's Yad Vashem holocaust memorial. .
(photo credit: screenshot)
Holocaust survivor Margot Herschenbaum was brought to tears at Yad Vashem on Tuesday, after a replica of her late sister’s personal album was gifted to US President Donald Trump during his visit to the memorial.
“This place and this entire nation are testimony to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people and the hope that light can shine the path beyond the darkness,” Trump said, donning a kippa as he delivered a short speech outside the Hall of Remembrance where he had laid a wreath together with first lady Melania and rekindled the eternal flame. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner also attended the ceremony.
Trump – who came under fire for omitting any mention of Jews in a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day – clearly referenced the six million Jews who perished in what he described as “history’s darkest hour,” and “the most savage crime against God and his children.”
Netanyahu swiftly lauded the speech as “incredibly moving” and connected the lessons of the Holocaust to the security of the Jewish state, before using the moment to publicly condemn Monday night’s deadly attack in Manchester.
After Trump and Netanyahu made their statements, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev presented the president with the replica of Holocaust victim Ester Goldstein’s book of photos and messages of friends and family – many who perished in the Holocaust.
Herschenbaum – who was rescued by a Kindertransport to Australia – had donated the album to Yad Vashem.
At the end of the ceremony Trump embraced Herschenbaum, as Sara Netanyahu put her hand to her heart in appreciation of the gesture.
Sara, Melania and Netanyahu followed Trump with their own expressions of warmth toward Herschenbaum, who was visibly overwhelmed.
Perhaps anticipating the emotion she would feel, in addition to an aversion to the limelight, Herschenbaum had released a written statement in advance.
She said she was “deeply moved” by the decision to present her sister’s album to Trump and expressed “hope that the president will appreciate the uniqueness of this item and realize its true meaning.”
“I always wanted to ensure that the memory of Ester and the fate of my family would never be forgotten,” she added. “This is the reason that I chose to donate the album to Yad Vashem. I did not go through the Holocaust as they did, and I always felt a bit guilty that my life has been so good.”
Trump’s visit lasted approximately half an hour, its brevity having drawn criticism in advance, which was played down by Yad Vashem officials.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau acknowledged that former US president Barack Obama spent a full hour touring the History Museum and it was a shame Trump could not do the same. But he suggested that the latter had a better background understanding of the Holocaust, as his father, Fred Trump, made regular generous donations and was actively involved in Brooklyn’s Jewish communities, which were made up many Holocaust refugees.
Though he expressed regret that the incumbent president could not have spent more time there, he said half an hour was enough to make a lasting impression. “Yesterday he was at the Kotel for less than half an hour, and he will never forget it,” he noted.
Shalev said Trump’s visit emphasized three important things: commemoration of the victims as human beings rather than mere numbers; continued remembrance; and the connection of the latter to the need to act against evil, terrorism and conflict in the world. “He understands the connection, that those who remember and enact these moral obligations, are more likely to deal with the same expressions of hate, evil and conflict that exist today,” he said.