US President Donald Trump paid his respects to the victims of the Holocaust at Israel’s Yad Vashem national memorial during a short visit on Tuesday.
Speaking at the site’s Hall of Remembrance, Trump said, “We are here at Yad Vashem to honor the memory of six million Jews who were sent to their deaths. Words can never describe the bottomless depth of that evil.”
He referred to the genocide as history’s darkest hour, and said “millions of beautiful lives” were taken.
The Holocaust, Trump said, was “the most savage crime against God and His children and it is our solemn duty to mourn every life that was so viciously taken.”
Accompanied by his wife, Melania, and daughter and son-in-law Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, the president laid a wreath, carried by two US Marines in formal dress, in honor of the dead.
Trump also lit a remembrance flame and listened to a cantor sing the El Maleh Rahamim (“God Full of Mercy”) prayer, a traditional dirge for the dead.
A children’s choir sang the ballad “My God, my God,” written by the young World War II parachutist Hannah Szenes not long before she died attempting to infiltrate Nazi-occupied Europe.
In his remarks, Trump praised the Jewish people for persevering after the tragedy: “They have thrived. They have become so successful in so many places. The State of Israel is a strong, a soaring monument to the solemn pledge we repeat and affirm: Never again.”
And he added: “As long as we refuse to become bystanders to the barbaric then we know peace and justice will ultimately prevail.”
Speaking immediately after Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Holocaust offered the lesson that “Israel must always be able to defend itself.”
“We remember the hatred toward Jews that consumed a defenseless people. We pledge never to be defenseless against that hatred again.”
He then thanked Trump for his commitment to Israel’s security.
Turning to the deadly terror attack in Manchester overnight, Netanyahu said, “I want to say something about the bloody horror in Manchester last night. The slaughter of innocents must be unconditionally condemned and unflinchingly confronted no matter where it occurs – in Manchester, San Bernardino or Jerusalem: Terror is terror is terror. We must all unite to defeat it.”
Netanyahu then referred to Trump’s speech in Bethlehem earlier Tuesday in which he called the terrorists from Manchester “losers.”
“I know you agree with me,” he told Trump, “that it is our job to make sure they continue to lose. We will defeat them.”
During his stop at Yad Vashem, Trump was presented with a replica of a personal album that belonged to German Jewish girl, Ester Goldstein, who was murdered by the Nazis.
In the guestbook, Trump wrote, “It is a great honor to be here with all of my friends — so amazing + will Never Forget!”
Trump has received a crash course in the Holocaust since entering politics two years ago. During the campaign, many Jewish groups were critical of his campaign messages — like “America first” and conspiratorial talk of “global special interests” that seemed to echo historical anti-Semitic themes. As president, his White House issued a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day that failed to mention the Jews, and Sean Spicer, his press secretary, said that Adolf Hilter had not used chemical weapons during World War II.
Spicer quickly apologized for the comment, which he made in an effort to emphasize the barbarism of Syrian President Bashar Assad, but Trump never directly addressed criticism of his actions, much of which came from Jewish groups.
The president seems to have learned his lesson. During the annual Days of Remembrance, he spoke specifically of the Holocaust’s toll on Jews, who were the singular targets of the genocide. But he caused another controversy in Israel when it was reported that he was looking to cut his already short visit to Yad Vashem to 30 minutes.
The visit is near obligatory for foreign dignitaries. Barack Obama spent an hour at the memorial center as president, and George Bush took even longer.
After the brief visit, which lasted roughly half an hour, Trump and his entourage left the memorial for the nearby Israel Museum, where Trump is slated to deliver his main address to Israelis.
JTA contributed to this report.