Some Holocaust survivors decided to skip the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day event at the U.S. Capitol when they found out the president of the United States would give the keynote.
But Manny Mandel, a survivor who did attend the ceremony at the Capitol Rotunda on Tuesday (April 25) and lit one of the memorial candles, said he thought the president rose to the occasion.
“I was very pleasantly surprised. I thought the man was on target. I thought the man said all the right things,” said Mandel, 81, a Lithuanian-born retired psychotherapist from Silver Spring, Md., who spent part of his childhood in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Mandel, as well as many other survivors and Jewish leaders who reject Trump’s agenda, praised the president’s strongly worded speech against the evils of the Holocaust, even as they remained unconvinced that he would translate its ideals into policy.
Before the event, many Jews had spoken of their discomfort with Trump as the keynote, referencing his history of disparaging rhetoric against religious and ethnic minorities. They pointed to his flirtations with anti-Semitic individuals among the far right, and his tough stance on immigrants, who, much like the Jews did during the Holocaust, look to the U.S. for protection.
“What he believes, knows, and will do, I have no idea,” added Mandel, who said he had thought Trump had blown off the event when he saw Vice President Mike Pence walk into the rotunda first.
But “I’m glad he showed up. I would have preferred somebody else. But I respect the office of the president.”
Trump’s son-in-law, senior White House advisor Jared Kushner, who is Jewish, also attended the speech, walking in with Pence. Kushner married Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is also Jewish.
Trump’s speech preceded one of the most somber moments of the hour-long ceremony: the lighting of six candles to represent the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. Fewer and fewer survivors are alive for the ceremony each year, and most, like Mandel, were children during the Holocaust.
This year’s ceremony was the first since the death of author and human rights activist Elie Wiesel, the survivor who spoke at the first such ceremony 38 years ago. Trump paid tribute to Wiesel, to the Holocaust’s victims and to the American soldiers who liberated Hitler’s concentration camps.
“I am deeply moved to stand beside people who survived history’s darkest hour. Your cherished presence transforms this place into a sacred gathering,” Trump said.
“We will never ever be silent in the face of evil again,” he promised.
Trump received a standing ovation from most of the hundreds crowded under the Capitol dome. Some guests remained seated, hands folded in their laps.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service