US President Barack Obama was seeing for homself the horrors of a concentration camp today during a visit to Germany.
Mr Obama was flying to Buchenwald where an estimated 56,000 people perished. Most were Jews – worked to death, shot or hanged by Nazi guards.
The visit – the first by a US president to the forced labour camp – was also personal. A great-uncle helped liberate a nearby satellite camp, Ohrdruf, in early April 1945 just days before other US Army units overran Buchenwald.
“It was full of people,” Charlie Payne, now 84, recalled of Ohrdruf by phone from his Chicago home.
“The people were in terrible shape, dressed in rags, most of them emaciated. Practically skin and bones.”
Ohrdruf no longer stands. But Buchenwald’s main gate, crematorium, hospital and two guard towers have been kept as a memorial.
Following the tour, Mr Obama was flying to Landstuhl medical hospital for private visits with US troops recovering from wounds sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And he was ending the day in Paris – reuniting with his wife, Michelle, and daughters Malia and Sasha, who planned a brief holiday in the City of Light after the Normandy ceremonies.
Tomorrow’s Normandy observance at the US cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer also was to be a moment for family memories.
Mr Obama’s grandfather, Stanley Dunham, came ashore at Omaha Beach six weeks after D-Day.
Dunham’s older brother Ralph hit Omaha on D-Day plus four.
With stops in Saudi Arabia and Egypt behind him, Mr Obama has turned his attention to Germany before heading to France to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Allies’ D-Day invasion.
But today in Dresden Mr Obama and German chancellor Angela Merkel walked together through the gate of Dresden Castle.
They headed into an ornate room to sign books – he wrote “Greetings from the people of the US!” – for Saxony and Dresden.
Minutes later, they retreated to hold private talks, primarily on the nuclear stand off with Iran and the slumping global economy.
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