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'Hatred is never defeated, it only hides'

Dropping to one knee, a tearful Biden moved by Holocaust survivors at Yad Vashem

On first day of Israel visit, US president speaks at length to two women who survived Nazi camps, tells one of them: ‘As my mother would say, God love you, dear’

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

  • US President Joe Biden speaks to Holocaust survivors Giselle Cycowicz (seated R) and Rena Quint (seated L) as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) and Israel's President Isaac Herzog (2nd R) look on during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, on July 13, 2022. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)
    US President Joe Biden speaks to Holocaust survivors Giselle Cycowicz (seated R) and Rena Quint (seated L) as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) and Israel's President Isaac Herzog (2nd R) look on during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, on July 13, 2022. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)
  • US President Joe Biden embraces Holocaust survivor Giselle Cycowicz as fellow survivor Rena Quint looks on during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, on July 13, 2022. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)
    US President Joe Biden embraces Holocaust survivor Giselle Cycowicz as fellow survivor Rena Quint looks on during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, on July 13, 2022. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)
  • US President Joe Biden speaks with Holocaust survivors Giselle Cycowicz (R) and Rena Quint, during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, on July 13, 2022. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)
    US President Joe Biden speaks with Holocaust survivors Giselle Cycowicz (R) and Rena Quint, during a ceremony at the Hall of Remembrance of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, on July 13, 2022. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)
  • US President Joe Biden speaks with Holocaust survivors Giselle Cycowicz (bottom-R) and Rena Quint (bottom-L), at the Hall of Remembrance of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, on July 13, 2022. (Menahem KAHANA / various sources / AFP)
    US President Joe Biden speaks with Holocaust survivors Giselle Cycowicz (bottom-R) and Rena Quint (bottom-L), at the Hall of Remembrance of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem, on July 13, 2022. (Menahem KAHANA / various sources / AFP)
  • President Isaac Herzog (L) and US President Joe Biden speak to Holocaust survivors Rena Quint and Giselle (Gita) Cycowicz at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on July 13, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)
    President Isaac Herzog (L) and US President Joe Biden speak to Holocaust survivors Rena Quint and Giselle (Gita) Cycowicz at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem on July 13, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

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.

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.

US President Joe Biden rekindles the eternal flame at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, July 13, 2022. (Screenshot)

“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.”

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.”

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.

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