Vice President Pence visits former Nazi concentration camp
DACHAU, Germany — A day after delivering the first major foreign policy address of the Trump administration, US Vice President Mike Pence toured the spare gray prison yards here where Jews and others assembled for daily roll call during the Holocaust.
It was a low-key visit to this Nazi-era concentration camp in southern Germany, coming midway through Pence’s European swing that’s meant to shore up alliances amid deep anxieties about the new US administration.
It also came the same week that President Donald Trump himself faced two public questions about a rise in anti-Semitic attacks, which he downplayed, refused to condemn, and challenged as an effort to undermine his presidency.
Pence’s visit was meant as a public show of remembrance for victims of the Holocaust, many of whom passed through Dachau on their way to death at Auschwitz. The Dachau prison was established in 1933, acting as a labor camp for political prisoners, Jews, homosexuals, Roma (gypsies) and others during Nazi rule of Germany. American soldiers liberated the camp at the end of World War II.
Pence didn’t offer a specific message during his visit, which came a day after he aimed to calm European fears about US-Russia ties in a speech at a security summit in Munich. Instead he quietly toured the cell blocks and other buildings with a guide and a survivor, Abba Naor. Pence’s wife, Karen, and daughter Charlotte joined him for the stop.
Under cloudy skies, Pence and his wife laid a white flower wreath at the International Monument, a jagged brass sculpture that evokes human figures trying to escape barbed wire. He observed moments of silence at memorials to the camp’s Jewish and Catholic victims.
Pence viewed Dachau’s crematoriums, used to destroy the evidence of Nazi cruelty. Later he attended a church service at the Protestant Church of Reconciliation.
Politicians have visited Dachau before, including Vice President Joe Biden, who toured the facility with his granddaughter during a 2015 visit to Munich for the same security conference where Pence spoke Saturday.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also toured the Dachau prison yards in 2013 — the first sitting German chancellor to do so — and warned against the spread of right-wing extremism.
Merkel intoned at Dachau back then that “Places such as this warn each one of us to help ensure that such things never happen again.” She is still warning against those forces today amid a rise in nationalism and protectionism in Europe and abroad. Merkel hopes to stave off those forces in her own reelection bid this year.
Since Merkel’s visit in 2013, anti-Semitic sentiments have swelled in Europe and the US. Groups like the Anti-Defamation League have reported a rise in incidents, and just last month, 48 Jewish community centers reported receiving bomb threats.
Trump became incensed during a press conference Thursday when a reporter from a Jewish publication asked him a question about anti-Semitic attacks in the US.
Trump dismissed the question outright and told the reporter to “sit down.” He said he resented any charges that his administration was allowing anti-Semitism to persist, and protested against any suggestion that he himself was an anti-Semite, though the reporter made no such charge while asking his question.