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June 6, 2009

Obama and Wiesel at Buchenwald

Yes, there were many powerful images from Buchenwald yesterday.
There was the photo of Obama alone, in brilliant profile, setting a flower upon a plaque on the ground, a crematorium tower in the background. There were also images of Obama, Merkel, and writer, professor, activist, Nobel Laureate and Buchenwald survivor Elie Wiesel photographed from a distance through the camp’s symbolically-charged perimeter barbed wire.
What I found most significant, however, were the images capturing the connection between of Obama and Wiesel.

If empathy is dead (or at least, off the table), God help us all. In spite of the photo op, there was an engagement between these two men, a depth of feeling in the setting and in the confluence of purposes, that more than evoked the “e-word.” I don’t know. After Bush, perhaps it’s simply profound to consider we could have a president who can think and feel at the same time; who can listen without judging; who can learn; and who can deeply appreciate things like irony and pathos and character.
Maybe the affinity expressed in these pictures has to do with the coming together of two teachers. Certainly, Wiesel is as feeling and poetic an instructor one could find on the subject of inhumanity.
The more cynical among us would say that Obama’s visit to Buchenwald, after giving his major speech to the Arab world, largely involved a balancing of the scales. If that happens to be true, however, I think it goes well beyond that. I find Obama — in an instinctive response to the responsibility of the office — seeking out the major wounds, with all the anger and hurt and the prejudice they stir, in order — in incremental steps — to reveal them as common.
I especially recommend the video of Wiesel’s speech yesterday, especially if you’ve never heard him before. (Along the way, notice the somber expressions and reactions of Obama and, especially, Merkel.)

(For photo credits, click on captions below slide viewer)

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