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Petraeus Commemorates 65th Anniversary of Concentration-Camp Liberation

In an eloquent address at the Capitol Rotunda sponsored by the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East and South Asia, honored the survivors of the Nazi death camps and the U.S. soldiers who helped liberate them 65 years ago. “We approach life with fewer illusions, with hope, to be sure, but with sobriety as well,” Petraeus reflected on the “indelible mark” left upon humanity by the Holocaust. “We are wiser for having seen how order can bend to the ways of terrible men.” Survivors, family members of survivors, and 120 veterans of the U.S. Army’s European campaign during World War II looked on, as did members of Congress and the Obama administration.

Petraeus’s remarks did not touch on politics, appropriately for the occasion, but there were a few subtle undertones relevant to contemporary events. He quoted Dwight Eisenhower’s order to record the scenes at the camps, as if to “look into the future and foresee a day” when some would “deny an undeniable historical truth,” as the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has repeatedly done in speeches. Petraeus’ reference to the Holocaust’s instructive lessons to the consequences of “when demonic dictators are able to hijack a country” appeared resonant in that regard.

The general recently found his comments about the relationship between the persistence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. interests in the Middle East misrepresented and attacked by Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League. Petraeus has not responded. But his speech’s reminder that Holocaust survivors and their descendants have “enriched our lives immeasurably” and “helped build a nation that stands as one of our great allies” are perhaps sufficient rebuke.

Before Petraeus spoke at the ceremony, Amb. Michael Oren, Israel’s envoy to Washington, addressed the crowd, and made a point of favorably quoting President Obama’s conception of the “unbreakable” bond between the U.S. and Israel, a gesture that seemed to signal a diminishment of diplomatic tensions between the two allies over the peace process.

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