Trump Takes Forceful Tone at Holocaust Remembrance: ‘Never Again’

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President Trump at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s National Days of Remembrance ceremony at the Capitol on Tuesday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump sent a powerful message to those who doubt his will to fight anti-Semitism — and to his own supporters in the white nationalist movement — during an annual Holocaust remembrance ceremony at the Capitol on Tuesday.

The president, who was slow to denounce campaign endorsements by racists including David Duke, made an unequivocal statement of support for Israel and pledged to “confront anti-Semitism” in a speech attended by lawmakers and survivors of Hitler’s war on European Jewry.

“We pledge — never again,” said Mr. Trump, invoking the phrase adopted by Jewish leaders after World War II. “We must never shrink away about telling the truth about evil in our time. We know that in the end, good will triumphs over evil.”

The president, who was with Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer — an American-born former Republican operative close to American conservatives — vowed to protect the Jewish people in the United States and abroad, and he criticized those who deny that the mechanized murder of six million Jews ever happened.

“Those who deny the Holocaust are complicit in it,” the president said.

Some Jewish groups have called out the president for what they say is a flirtation with the far right — a tolerance of anti-Semitic sentiment in service of retaining the support of fringe conservatives.

They have repeatedly expressed concern about the White House chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, who was accused by a former wife of making anti-Jewish comments. Several groups have also called for Mr. Trump to fire a Bannon deputy, Sebastian Gorka, who has been accused of having links to far-right groups in Europe.

The criticism goes back to the 2016 presidential campaign, when Trump supporters fired anti-Semitic attacks at his opponents and at journalists viewed as hostile to his candidacy.

“I do not claim to know what is in Trump’s heart,” said Simon Greer, a progressive Jewish activist who opposed Mr. Trump’s participation in Tuesday’s ceremony. “But I do believe that many of the people and ideas populating this administration could pose a threat to us. And something must be done.”

The controversy over Mr. Trump’s relationship with the Jewish community is one of the more bewildering story lines in a young administration brimming with paradox.

In late January, the White House released a Holocaust remembrance statement that did not include any mention of Jews.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, added fuel to the controversy by playing down the significance of the omission, telling reporters, “To suggest that remembering the Holocaust and acknowledging all of the people — Jewish, Gypsies, priests, disabled, gays and lesbians — I mean, it is pathetic that people are picking on a statement.”

This month, Mr. Spicer said incorrectly that Hitler had not used chemical weapons against his own people. Mr. Spicer later apologized.

During Tuesday’s ceremony at the Capitol, the president enunciated the word “Nazi” in an unusual way, pronouncing it with a “z” sound instead of the “tz” sound as is typically done.

Mr. Trump’s connections to Jews are lifelong: He grew up in a largely Jewish neighborhood in Queens; his family’s real estate empire employed many Jews in its upper echelons; and he has surrounded himself with Jewish advisers in the White House, including his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Mr. Kushner’s wife, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a White House adviser, is a convert to Judaism and is raising her children Jewish. As Mr. Trump was making his remarks, she was in Berlin en route to that city’s Holocaust memorial.

The president is clearly seeking a reset in his relationship with the Jewish community, and his public statements on the issue have become increasingly emphatic, emotional and rooted in the historical suffering of the Jewish people.

On Sunday night, in a video shown to the plenary session of a World Jewish Congress event in New York City, Mr. Trump gave his most extensive remarks so far about the atrocities of the Holocaust as evidence of his “passion” on the topic, what he called “the darkest chapter of human history.”

“We mourn, we remember, we pray and we pledge: Never again. I say it, never again,” Mr. Trump said in the video. “The mind cannot fathom the pain, the horror and the loss. Six million Jews, two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, murdered by the Nazi genocide. They were murdered by an evil that words cannot describe, and that the human heart cannot bear.”

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