OSWIECIM, Poland — Under thin sunshine, Vice President Mike Pence stood silently before a specially reinforced wall against which Nazis executed some of the estimated 1.1 million people slaughtered at Auschwitz.
The long moment of reflection Friday was part of a somber walking tour of the world’s most infamous former Nazi death camp and the remnants of a satellite camp, Birkenau, that are now a Polish state museum.
Shortly before, Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, had walked through the iconic Auschwitz camp gate, under crude metal letters spelling out the cruelly ironic Nazi motto “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “work makes you free.”
His visit was the emotional heart of a four-day European diplomatic trip focused on what the Trump administration calls Iran’s threatening posture and support for terrorism, and on spotlighting White House support for Israel.
Pence met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of a U.S.-planned Middle East conference in Poland on Thursday, and the two men toured a memorial to Warsaw’s murdered Jews.
Speaking with reporters after leaving the camp Friday, Pence likened the Nazi genocide to the vow of modern-day Iran to “wipe Israel off of the map of the Middle East,” and said Tehran voices “the same vile, anti-Semitic hatred that animated the Nazis in Europe.”
“And the lesson of the 20th century is that when authoritarian leaders breathe out anti-Semitic threats of violence against the Jewish people, freedom-loving people should take them seriously and be prepared to confront them,” Pence said.