President Obama waxed eloquent at the Holocaust Museum in Washington this week, speaking of the men and women commemorated there as "a testament to the endurance and the strength of the human spirit."
He told how his great uncle, an American soldier, was stunned by what he saw at the liberation of the death camp at Buchenwald. The president himself remembered somber feelings as he stood with survivors at a monument honoring those in the old Warsaw ghetto who would not go quietly into the night.
The president recalled the heroism of Jan Karski, a young Polish Catholic who was smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto to learn how Polish Jews were transported to their deaths in Treblinka in 1942, and carried photographs and his findings to President Franklin D. Roosevelt to plead with him to do something about the murder of the Jews. FDR listened but did not act. He said the way to save the Jews was to win the war. Obama did not say anything about that. He does not want to invite comparisons.
FDR could hide behind the urgency of war and the advice of his State Department, then as now riddled with weak and prissy bureaucrats who don't like Jews very much. But in this election year, another president has different problems. When Eli Weisel suggested that the president and other world leaders "have not learned anything" from the lessons of the Holocaust writ large, he cited chapter and verse, begging for answers.
"How is it that (Bashar al-Assad) is still in power?" he asked. "How is it that the Holocaust's number one denier, (Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad, is still a president? He who threatens to use nuclear weapons to destroy the Jewish state. We must know that when evil has power, it is almost too late."
Timid and faint-hearted or not, Obama doesn't want Eli Weisel and Jewish voters to think he's indifferent to Jewish concerns. He has a plan. He has signed an executive order to create the "first ever" Atrocities Prevention Board (APB). It will bring together senior officials from across the government intelligence services to see data "to ensure that information pertaining to unfolding crises -- and dissenting opinion -- of human rights (abuses) will quickly reach decision-makers, including me." (And if that doesn't work, he might write a strong letter to the editor.)