U.S. President Joe Biden opened his trip to Israel with a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem Wednesday where he laid a wreath in memory of the six million Jewish victims of Nazi Germany and met with Holocaust survivors.
After a reception ceremony at Ben Gurion Airport upon landing in the Jewish and watching Israeli air defense systems on display, the U.S. president headed to the Holocaust museum in the Israeli capital.
Wearing a black yarmulke on his head, Biden met and shook hands with Holocaust survivors Rena Quint and Giselle (Gita) Cycowicz. The president got down on one knee to kiss both seated women and spoke with them for several minutes.
Quint was born in 1935 in Piotrkow Tribunalski, Poland. Her mother and two brothers were murdered in October 1942 after being deported to Treblinka. Quint was also deported with her father who later died, and she had to pretend to be a boy to survive.
Cycowicz was born in 1927 in the town of Chust on the Carpathian Mountains in Czechoslovakia (present-day Ukraine).
In March 1944, the Germans rounded up Cycowicz and her family and confined them in a ghetto before deporting them to Auschwitz-Birkenau, and later to forced labor camps.
"He was adorable, I did not expect this," Cycowicz told Ynet after her brief chit-chat with the president.
"He got down on his knees and gave us a kiss. I told him how excited I was being in Israel and that I live in America for 46 years."
Quint said they were told they couldn't come into contact with Biden due to COVID-19 risks, but the president was the one who kissed both women when he approached them.
"This was something. It was so fun. We talked about his first wife and daughter who were killed in a car crash," Quint said. "He knows what is pain, and he knows our pain. I told him that I was really glad he came here, he knows what it means to get on with life. He told me I am young and beautiful. The president is a very cordial person."
Biden then took part in a ceremony in the museum's Hall of Remembrance where rekindles the Eternal Flame and laid a wreath on the slab under which ashes of extermination camp victims are interred.
After the ceremony, Biden signed Yad Vashem's visitor's book and stressed how honored he felt being back in Israel, and the importance of remembering the Holocaust.
"It is a great honor to be back - back to my emotional home. We must never, ever forget because hate is never defeated - it only hides. We must teach every emerging generation that it can happen again unless we remember. That is what I teach my children and grandchildren – never forget," he wrote.