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Published January 28, 2015


Comments made by President Obama on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp have drawn criticism by some in the Jewish community.  The comments came as the president finished a brief visit to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.  The purpose of the trip was to offer condolences to the family of the late king and begin building a diplomatic relationship with his successor.  The president may find that he has fence-mending to perform when he returns to the U.S.

President Obama made the comments before departing for Air Force One when he was asked whether he had any reflections on the anniversary.  The president responded that the “horrors of that war touched many people a long time ago.”  Also , he said that, “the more time that passes, the more uncertain some memories become” and that it is “important not to extrapolate events.”

The president always must temper his public comments to the sensibilities of his host nation.”

Holocaust survivor Irving Reiner, who attended the ceremonies at Auschwitz on Wednesday, said that the president’s comments disturbed him.  “I am ashamed of the president,” said Reiner, 91.  “The president sounds like a Holocaust denier,” he added.

Some observers believe that the president might have been attempting to placate the new Saudi monarch, King Salman.  Relations between Washington and Riyadh have been strained in recent years. While most of the strain stemmed from differences over how to address Muslim extremism in the region, some of it may derive from the U.S.’s historically close relationship with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his displeasure with the statements.  “The president has remarked privately to me that he has doubts concerning gas chambers,” he said.  “These comments are consistent with this very dangerous skepticism on the part of an important world leader.”

A White House spokesperson attempted to explain the comments as paying respect to the president’s Saudi host: “The president always must temper his public comments to the sensibilities of his host nation.”  He also denied that the president would ever attempt to minimize the Holocaust.  “The president recognizes the Holocaust as historical fact,” he said.