U.S. President George W. Bush visited Yad Vashem before closing the Israeli leg of his Middle East tour.
The national Holocaust remembrance institution was closed to the general public due to the presidential visit, as well as several streets leading to it.
Bush was accompanied by Olmert, Peres, and Yad Vashem chairman Yosef (Tommy) Lapid.
The American president and Israel’s leaders then heard a rabbi chant a special version of El Malei Rahamim [Oh G-d, Full of Mercy], the Jewish prayer for the dead, used on Holocaust remembrance ceremonies.
Wearing a yarmulke, Bush placed a red-white-and-blue wreath on a stone slab that covers ashes of Holocaust victims taken from six extermination camps. He also lit a torch memorializing the victims.
Bush was visibly moved during his hour-long tour of the site, said Yad Vashem’s chairman, Avner Shalev.
“Twice, I saw tears well up in his eyes,” Shalev said.
At one point, Bush viewed aerial photos of the Auschwitz death camp taken during the war by U.S. forces and called Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice over to discuss why the American government under Roosevelt had decided against bombing the site, Shalev said.
Rice explained that at the time the U.S. did not think such a move would halt the extermination of the Jews.
Shalev said on Army Radio that he “reiterated my own explanation: They did not want to deviate from the war’s objective, didn’t want to be seen as if they were fighting for the Jews.”
“Bush then paused for a moment to think, then said to me ‘We should have bombed it,’ ” Shalev added.
In the memorial’s visitors’ book, the president wrote simply, “God bless Israel, George Bush.”
Shalev presented Bush with illustrations of the Bible drawn by the Jewish artist Carol Deutsch, who perished in the Holocaust.
Deutsch created the works while in hiding from the Nazis in Belgium. He was informed upon, and died in 1944 in the Buchenwald camp. After the war, his daughter Ingrid discovered that the Nazis had confiscated their furniture and valuables but had left behind a single item: a meticulously crafted wooden box adorned with a Star of David and a seven-branched menorah, containing a collection of 99 of the artist’s illustrations of biblical scenes.
The originals are on display at Yad Vashem. The memorial recently decided to produce a special series of 500 replicas, the first of which was to be presented to Bush.
Debbie Deutsch-Berman, a Yad Vashem employee whose grandfather was Deutch’s brother, said she was proud that Bush would be given her relative’s artwork.
“These are not just his paintings, they are his legacy, and the fact that they survived shows that as much as our enemies tried to destroy the ideas that these paintings embody, they failed,” she said.
Following his visit to Yad Vashem, Bush visited two of Christianity’s holiest sites. The first was Capernaum, where Jesus of Nazareth made sermon and met five of his apostles, and the second was the Church of the Beatitudes near the Kinneret, on a hilltop where Jesus is believed to have given the Sermon on the Mount, outlining the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
U.S. President George W. Bush rekindles the eternal flame commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, in the Hall of Remembrance in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, Friday, Jan. 11, 2008. (all photos on this page: AP Photo/Oleg Popov, Pool)
President George W. Bush shakes hands with a member of the choir during a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Bush was misty-eyed during the visit to the memorial, which he said was a “sobering reminder that evil exists and a call that when we find evil we must resist it.”