Doug Emhoff visits Europe to raise Holocaust awareness and fight antisemitism : NPR

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The second gentleman of the United States, Doug Emhoff, lays wreaths honoring the victims of the Holocaust at the former site of Auschwitz on Friday in Oswiecim, Poland.

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The second gentleman of the United States, Doug Emhoff, lays wreaths honoring the victims of the Holocaust at the former site of Auschwitz on Friday in Oswiecim, Poland.

Omar Marques/Getty Images

On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, government officials from several countries are gathering at the site of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to remember the victims and follow the survivors.

Among them, for the first time, is the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president of the United States.

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff is visiting Krakow, Poland and Berlin this week to promote both Holocaust awareness and the Biden administration’s efforts to combat antisemitism.

His journey will include a stop at Oskar Schindler‘s, a Shabbat dinner with a local Jewish community, a meeting with Ukrainian refugees, a roundtable with interfaith leaders and visits to various museums and other historical sites.

And it’s more about listening and trading ideas than delivering any specific policy, senior administration officials told reporters on a call Wednesday. Emhoff — whose grandparents fled persecution from present-day Poland in the early 19th century — has been at the forefront of the Biden administration’s efforts to address growing anti-Semitism in these the last months.

“The visit certainly has special significance … for him, for our administration, for American Jews and, frankly, Jews all over the world,” an official said. “And it’s not lost on us that it’s a pretty incredible moment for him to come back as an American Jew, as the first second gentleman … and work on these issues.”

The Biden administration is concerned about the role of social media

Antisemitism is increasingly visible in the United States these days, with high-profile figures in entertainment, sports and politics publicly promoting tropes and conspiracy theories, and the number of recorded hate incidents directed at Jewish people on steady climb.

More than 85% of Americans believe at least one anti-Semitic trope, according to the results of an Anti-Defamation League survey released earlier this month. Twenty percent of Americans believe six or more such tropes, the highest level I’ve measured in decades.

“Modern technology and the internet, in particular social media, allow ideas to spread with unprecedented speed,” said a senior administration official.

The Biden administration is seeking to combat rampant antisemitism, including pushing back against Holocaust denial and disinformation. Emhoff’s journey is part of those efforts.

In December, Biden created a task force with representatives from more than 20 federal agencies, dedicated to combating antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of biased discrimination.

The group is holding weekly meetings, reviewing actions taken by other countries and working to produce and implement a national strategy, officials said.

Emhoff held a White House roundtable on anti-Semitism with a dozen leaders from the Jewish community in December, and said it was “just the beginning of this conversation.

“As long as I have this microphone, I will speak against hate, bigotry and lies,” said Emhoff during the roundtable.

Since then, he has also met with the Bipartisan House Task Force to Combat Anti-Semitism and spoken to Jewish students at Arizona State University during an in-state visit.

On Thursday, Biden came out statement it recalls the Holocaust and reminds people of the hatred that exists today.

“In our country, we are seeing swastikas on cars, antisemitic banners on bridges, verbal and physical attacks against Jewish businesses and Jewish Americans – even denial of the Holocaust,” he said. “It’s vile. It goes against everything we value as Americans. And each of us must speak out against this poison.”

On the itinerary: meetings and souvenirs

A day after he arrived in Krakow, Emhoff threw his head about 40 miles west to Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial for a tour that included wreath-laying and candle-lighting ceremonies.

He then attended the 78th anniversary commemoration of the liberation of the concentration camp, together with some survivors and several government officials, including Deborah Lipstadt, the special envoy of the United States to monitor and fight antisemitism.

On Friday evening, Emhoff will attend a Shabbat dinner back in Krakow with members of the Jewish community.

Saturday’s planned events include a visit to Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory Museum (Schindler famous saved more than 1,200 Polish Jews by employing them in his plant during the Second World War), antisemitism roundtable and a meeting with Ukrainian refugees.

On Sunday, Emhoff will visit Krakow’s Jewish Quarter and tour historical sites in the southern town of Gorlice before heading to Berlin.

On Monday, he will participate in a meeting with other emissaries of antisemitism at the Museum of the Topography of Terrorism, and visit both that museum and the Museum of Jewish Life. Later, he will meet with German community leaders and government officials at a dinner hosted by the US ambassador to Germany, Amy Gutmann (the late father escaped from Nazi Germany).

Emhoff will end his trip on Tuesday with a roundtable with Jewish, Muslim and Christian faith leaders, then meet with Ukrainian refugees at the Oranienburgerstrasse Synagogue. as well as visiting monuments dedicated to the victims of Nazi persecution and meeting Holocaust survivors.

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