Amid anti-Semitism row, Pence tours Nazi concentration camp
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Amid anti-Semitism row, Pence tours Nazi concentration camp

US vice president’s visit to Dachau follows criticism over administration’s omission of Jews from Holocaust Remembrance Day statement

US Vice President Mike Pence, second from left, stands behind the gate with the infamous writing "Labor makes free" during a visit to the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau near Munich, southern Germany, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
US Vice President Mike Pence, second from left, stands behind the gate with the infamous writing "Labor makes free" during a visit to the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau near Munich, southern Germany, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

DACHAU, Germany — US Vice President Mike Pence paid a somber visit to the site of the Dachau concentration camp on Sunday, walking along the grounds where tens of thousands of people were killed during World War II.

Pence was joined by his wife, Karen Pence, and the couple’s 23-year-old daughter, Charlotte, as they toured the exhibits at the former concentration camp that was established by the Nazis in 1933 near Munich.

The vice president was accompanied by Abba Naor, a survivor of the camp, and other dignitaries as he passed through the wrought iron gate bearing the inscription, “Arbeit macht frei,” or “Work sets you free.”

“It was a miracle that we survived,” Naor told the vice president and his family, describing a typical meal as “a slice of bread.”

The Pences placed a wreath beneath the International Memorial at the center of the camp, toured the barracks and viewed the ovens inside the crematorium.

The Pences also stopped at religious memorials at the site and later attended a church service on the camp’s grounds.

“Moving and emotional tour of Dachau today,” he tweeted on his official Twitter account. “We can never forget atrocities against Jews and others in the Holocaust.”

More than 200,000 people from across Europe were held at Dachau, and more than 40,000 prisoners died there. The camp was liberated by US forces in April 1945.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, center, his wife Karen, second from left, and his daughter Charlotte, left, are lead by Holocaust survivor Abba Naor, right, as they visit the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau near Munich, southern Germany, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, one day after he attended the Munich Security Conference. (Sven Hoppe/pool photo via AP)
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, center, his wife Karen, second from left, and his daughter Charlotte, left, are lead by Holocaust survivor Abba Naor, right, as they visit the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau near Munich, southern Germany, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017, one day after he attended the Munich Security Conference. (Sven Hoppe/pool photo via AP)

Making his first overseas trip as vice president, Pence spoke to foreign diplomats and defense officials at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday and met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders.

Pence was traveling to Brussels later Sunday for meetings on Monday with NATO and European Union officials.

In 2015, then-US vice president Joe Biden visited the site with his granddaughter during a trip to Germany.

US Vice President Michael Richard Pence (2L), his wife Karen Pence (L) and his daughter Charlotte Pence look at the crematorium at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site at the former Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, Germany, on February 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Kienzle)
US Vice President Michael Richard Pence (2L), his wife Karen Pence (L) and his daughter Charlotte Pence look at the crematorium at the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site at the former Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, Germany, on February 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/Thomas Kienzle)

Pence’s visit to Dachau follows a recent outcry over US President Donald Trump’s failure to mention the Jews in his statement for International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“It is with a heavy heart and somber mind that we remember and honor the victims, survivors, heroes of the Holocaust,” the president said in the statement. “It is impossible to fully fathom the depravity and horror inflicted on innocent people by Nazi terror.”

US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, left, lay a wreath during a visit to the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau near Munich, southern Germany, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)
US Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen, left, lay a wreath during a visit to the former Nazi concentration camp in Dachau near Munich, southern Germany, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

When pressed why no mention was made of the 6 million Jews murdered during the Holocaust, the administration doubled down on its original statement, with Trump spokeswoman Hope Hicks saying “we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all of those who suffered,” pointing to “priests, gypsies, people with mental or physical disabilities, communists, trade unionists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, anarchists, Poles and other Slavic peoples, and resistance fighters” as other Holocaust victims.

In response to the statement, a number of US Jewish organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League condemned the administration’s failure to mention the murder of Jews during the Holocaust, as well as the Zionist Organization of America and the Republican Jewish Coalition, both of which are generally sympathetic to Trump.

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands during a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC on February 15, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

During a joint press conference with Trump on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the US president and “his people” against charges of anti-Semitism, saying “there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than Donald Trump.”

Although Trump evaded a question from a reporter regarding rising anti-Semitism during the press conference, the US president acknowledged the suffering of the Jewish people during the Holocaust in his opening statement, saying “we will never forget what the Jewish people have endured” and hailing the Jews for their “survival in the face of genocide.”

Asked by ultra-Orthodox reporter Jake Turx during a press conference the next day how his administration planned to handle anti-Semitism, Trump grew furious and accused his questioner of dishonesty, seeming to mistakenly believe he was being accused of anti-Semitism. Trump referenced Netanyahu’s support and insisted, “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have ever seen in your entire life.”

Following the incident, Turx defended Trump, telling Fox News that “it’s very unfair what’s been done to him and I understand why he’s so defensive. And I’m with him when it comes to being outraged about him being charged with this anti-Semitism.”

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