US President Joe Biden conducted an emotional visit on Wednesday to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, where he honored victims and spoke at length with two survivors.
After a welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport, Biden headed to Yad Vashem, where he rekindled the Eternal Flame in the Hall of Remembrance.
The president also laid a wreath on a slab under which ashes of extermination camp victims are interred.
Biden was flanked during the ceremony by President Isaac Herzog, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Secretary Benny Gantz, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Holocaust survivor and Chairman of the Yad Vashem Council Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, and Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan.
Lapid had insisted that Gantz, the son of a Holocaust survivor, be included in the Yad Vashem visit.
After the wreath-laying, a choir sang the song “A Walk to Caesarea,” or “Eli, Eli” written by Hungarian Jewish World War II resistance fighter Hannah Szenes, who was executed in Hungary in 1944.
The emotional climax of the visit was Biden’s warm, extended conversation with two female Holocaust survivors, Rena Quint and Giselle (Gita) Cycowicz. The president told the women to remain seated, then crouched on one knee to speak with them.
Cycowicz was born in 1927 in Chust, which was then part of Czechoslovakia. She was rounded up and confined in the ghetto before being deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and later to forced labor camps, according to Yad Vashem.
— Yad Vashem (@yadvashem) July 13, 2022
Quint was born in 1935 in Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland. In 1942, her mother and her two older brothers were deported to the Treblinka extermination camp, where they were murdered. Rena and her father were sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp, where her father was murdered. She was eventually sent to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Biden, a famously tactile politician who is energized by interacting with the public, was in his element with the two women, holding their hands and engaging in easy conversation. As the conversation progressed, he was joined by Herzog, Lapid, Blinken — whose stepfather is a Holocaust survivor — and the rest of the senior officials accompanying him.
“I just want you to know, in the Biden family, no woman is as old as any man,” said Biden to the survivors, to laughs.
“As my mother would say, God love you, dear,” said Biden. “She wasn’t Jewish, but she was Irish.”
Today, I paid a visit to the hallowed ground of Yad Vashem where I had the distinct honor of meeting Dr. Gita Cycowicz and Ms. Rena Quint, two Holocaust survivors.
I vow to continue our shared, unending work to fight the poison of antisemitism wherever we find it in the world. pic.twitter.com/h0YaU8kZaN
— President Biden (@POTUS) July 13, 2022
Biden signed the Yad Vashem visitors’ book following the wreath-laying ceremony, emphasizing what an honor it was to be back in Israel, and the importance of remembering the Holocaust.
Related, from our archive: Child Holocaust survivor can never remember her stolen past
“It is a great honor to be back — back to my emotional home,” Biden wrote. “We must never, ever forget — because hatred is never defeated — it only hides. We must teach every succeeding generation that it can happen again unless we remember. That is what I teach my children and grandchildren. Never forget.”
President Biden was received by YV Chairman @AmbDaniDayan, @IsraeliPM @yairlapid, President of #Israel @Isaac_Herzog, and Chairman of the YV Directorate Rabbi Israel Meir Lau. pic.twitter.com/SYB1ZKEuw1
— Yad Vashem (@yadvashem) July 13, 2022
Biden will spend 48 hours in Israel and the West Bank with an itinerary that includes bilateral meetings with Israeli leaders, attendance at the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Jewish Olympics, a visit to a hospital for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem.
He will then fly directly to Saudi Arabia to participate in a summit of regional Arab leaders known as the GCC+3 before returning to the US on Sunday.
It is Biden’s tenth trip to Israel, and he used his remarks at the airport to fondly recall his first visit just before the Yom Kippur War in 1973 when Golda Meir was premier and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was one of her aides.