Putin, Pence and Prince Charles join luminaries in Jerusalem.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Vice President Mike Pence and the Prince of Wales joined dozens of Western leaders in Jerusalem on Thursday morning at Yad Vashem, the hillside memorial to the Holocaust, for an extraordinary demonstration of resolve to fight anti-Semitism.
The afternoon ceremony recalled the Jan. 27, 1945, liberation of Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp in occupied Poland where 1.1 million people perished, by Red Army troops. But it drew pointed connections to the resurgence of anti-Semitism across much of Europe and North America.
President Reuven Rivlin of Israel stressed that Israel’s establishment was “not a compensation for the Holocaust,” but a return to the homeland of the Jewish people. He said Israel sought from other nations a “partnership, a full-fledged one in the battle against anti-Semitism.”
“Anti-Semitism has not changed, but, yes, we have,” Mr. Rivlin said. “The state of Israel is not a victim. We will always defend ourselves in our country. And we will always be responsible for Jewish communities abroad, for their safety and security.”
Mr. Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, arrived in Israel on Air Force Two on Thursday morning. It was not his first official visit to commemorate the camp’s liberation: Last winter, he visited the concentration camp, alongside President Andrzej Duda of Poland.
“We just felt waves of emotion,” Mr. Pence said about his time there.
Later Thursday, Mr. Pence is scheduled to visit the Western Wall and will also meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the new, and hotly contested, location of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.
It is the biggest political gathering in Israel’s history, and the Holy City was teeming with police officers, with some schools canceling classes and the main highway from the airport closed as motorcades streamed through with arriving heads of state.
The event has not been without moments of friction: Mr. Macron’s visit Tuesday afternoon to a church in the Old City that France considers its sovereign territory was briefly marred by a dispute between Mr. Macron and accompanying Israeli security officers.
For Mr. Netanyahu, the presence of so many global chieftains — and the opportunity to meet with them in bilateral talks — was an important boon at an opportune time. Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, is battling for his political life, awaiting trial on serious corruption charges even as he campaigns for re-election in the third ballot in a year, set to take place on March 2. The previous two elections were inconclusive.
His centrist opponent, Benny Gantz, a former army chief, was holding his own meetings, including a morning session with a bipartisan delegation from the United States Congress that included the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
The Russian president hinted at a deal to free an Israeli woman.
After months of hope and suspense in Israel, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia hinted soon after his arrival that the painful saga of a young Israeli woman imprisoned in Russia might be coming to an end, telling her mother, “Everything will be fine.”
The Israeli-American citizen, Naama Issachar, 26, was sentenced last year to a long prison term in Russia after the authorities found a few grams of marijuana in her luggage as she waited at a Moscow airport to board a connecting flight home.
Ms. Issachar’s mother, Yaffa Issachar, joined Mr. Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for part of a breakfast meeting in Jerusalem. She had spent months in Russia dealing with lawyers and the authorities and leading an emotional public campaign for her daughter’s release, winning the hearts of many Israelis.
Ms. Issachar and the two leaders, along with Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, emerged from the meeting on Thursday smiling.
“I have just met with Naama’s mother,” Mr. Putin said, speaking in Russian. “It’s clear to me that Naama comes from a very good and decent family.”
“The mother is very worried, and I see this,” he added. “I told her, and I would like to repeat it, that everything will be fine.
Apparently referring to Mr. Netanyahu’s push for a pardon for Naama Issachar, Mr. Putin said he was aware of the Israeli leader’s position, adding, “All this will be taken into account in the taking of a final decision.” He said that Ms. Issachar would meet later Thursday with the person responsible for maintaining human rights in Russia.
Holocaust survivors should get my seats, Ukraine’s leader says.
President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine arrived in Israel before dawn on Thursday and quickly stirred up dust, announcing that he would not attend the Yad Vashem commemoration.
He asked that his delegation’s seats be given instead to Holocaust survivors, following the lead of several Israeli government ministers who had done so after learning that only a few dozen survivors would be among the nearly 800 guests at the ceremony.
“These people deserve these honors most of all,” Mr. Zelensky, Ukraine’s first Jewish president, said on Twitter. He headed instead to the Western Wall for a private visit.
But officials at Yad Vashem said that it was far too late to arrange to bring frail survivors to the ceremony, and called Mr. Zelensky’s decision regrettable.
“It is a shame he decided to take such a step at an event under the banner of the memory of the Holocaust and fighting anti-Semitism,” the officials said in a statement.
The pomp and circumstance surrounding the Jerusalem gathering at a time when 45,000 survivors of the Holocaust live below the poverty line in Israel has drawn growing anger. Some protesters picketed outside Yad Vashem with signs calling it unseemly that such a somber event had been turned into a “celebration.”
The roads around Jerusalem were heavily fortified Thursday afternoon with police and security forces. Adults and children lined the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the many motorcades snaking through the city.
The surge in hotel reservations by visiting dignitaries had led to at least one unexpected lodging scenario: Vice President Mike Pence is staying in the same hotel as Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House speaker who led the impeachment effort against President Trump.
Pence: ‘He’s unstoppable. Like somebody else I know.’
Not even an event as solemn as Holocaust remembrance could escape its share of high-level schmoozing.
At Yad Vashem, the memorial to the Holocaust, world leaders delayed the beginning of the program by engaging in a lengthy round of hellos, good-jobs and handshakes before they took their seats.
For his part, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flitted from leader to leader, offering praise and smiles.
“That was a great speech last night,” he told King Felipe VI of Spain before moving on. As he greeted other dignitaries with laughs and half-hugs, Mr. Netanyahu huddled with President Emmanuel Macron of France before the two turned away from a wall of cameras, apparently to speak privately.
Vice President Mike Pence was less discreet about their interaction as he appeared to broach political matters back home.
“We’re contending,” Mr. Pence told Mr. Netanyahu. “He’s unstoppable. Like somebody else I know,” the vice president added, an unmistakable nod to the impeachment battle that President Trump is waging at home.
Just before the program started, Prince Charles entered, bypassing the Pences completely before greeting other leaders and taking his seat.
Auschwitz survivors dwindle as the 75th anniversary arrives.
When Piotr Cywinsk took over as the director of Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland more than a decade ago, every day he would meet a survivor. Their stories were invariably wrenching, often surprising and always stirring.
But as the years have passed, he said, those encounters have grown scarce.
“We barely meet with survivors now in our daily educational work,” he said.
So the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp seemed like a chance — perhaps the last one — to bring together as many as they could to mark the occasion.
On Monday, when the liberation will be observed by a solemn ceremony, some 200 survivors will make their way back to the camp.
While the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, will speak — given that the German death camp was in occupied Poland — Mr. Cywinsk said, they had sought to keep the event as free from politics as possible.
Mr. Duda had been invited to the Jerusalem gathering but declined to attend over what he saw as a snub: He was not given a slot to speak, though the Russian president was.
“This place is too sacred to allow it to be used in an opportunistic way,” Mr. Cywinsk said. “And politics, by its nature, is opportunistic.”
Instead, the focus will be on survivors and their stories. The philanthropist Ronald S. Lauder, who is also speak at the event, said that was as it should be.
“Almost half the survivors have died in the last five years,” Mr. Lauder noted in an interview.
In view of the rise in anti-Semitism across Europe, he said, their voices needed to be heard both as a reminder and a warning. Mr. Lauder has been involved in conservation efforts at Auschwitz for more than three decades, and Mr. Cywinsk said those conservation efforts were essential in battling those who would distort or deny what had taken place here.
But the burden of telling that story, he said, should no longer fall on the shoulders of the survivors. “They have done their job,” he said. “It is our responsibility now.”
Saudi Arabia sends an envoy, a Muslim cleric, to Auschwitz.
A prominent Muslim cleric from Saudi Arabia was to visit Auschwitz on Thursday as part of a joint delegation between the Mecca-based Muslim World League and the American Jewish Committee.
The cleric, Mohammad al-Issa, served as the Saudi justice minister before being named to lead the league by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler. He has since become the most public face of Prince Mohammed’s efforts to rebrand Saudi Arabia as an Islamic society open to other religions through his meetings with Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders around the world.
In a statement, the American Jewish Committee hailed Dr. al-Issa’s visit at the head of a delegation including Muslims from 28 countries as “the most senior Islamic leadership delegation to ever visit Auschwitz or any Nazi German death camp.”
On its English-language Twitter feed, the Muslim World League said that Dr. al-Issa would be “the senior-most Muslim leader” to visit Auschwitz.
“I believe that by paying my respects to the victims of Auschwitz, I will encourage Muslims and non-Muslims to embrace mutual respect, understanding and diversity,” Dr. al-Issa was quoted as saying by the committee statement during the signing last April of an agreement between it and his organization.
After visiting Auschwitz on Thursday, the joint delegation will see a Jewish history museum and a synagogue in Warsaw on Friday before an interfaith dinner to observe the start of the Jewish Sabbath.
“By educating people on the horrors of history, we can plant the seeds for a future where Jews, Muslims and all other groups can live free of fear,” Davis Harris, the American Jewish Committee’s chief executive, said in the statement.
Ben Hubbard, Katie Rogers and Marc Santora contributed reporting.