Knight Ridder News
KRAKOW, POLAND - President Bush on Saturday made a solemn visit to two Nazi death camps, saying they served as a reminder "of the power of evil and the need for people to resist it."
Grim-faced and visibly emotional, Bush said the Auschwitz and Birkenau extermination camps were "also a strong reminder that the civilized world must never forget what took place on this site."
Bush, joined by his wife Laura, marked the first full day of a weeklong, six country trip with a heavily symbolic two-hour visit to the infamous camps where more than 1 million prisoners - most of them Jews - died.
They laid two memorial wreaths. One was at an Auschwitz wall where several thousand people were lined up and executed. The other was near Birkenau's International Monument to Victims of Fascism, which sits at the end of about 500 yards of railway track inside the sprawling camp. On either side of the monument are the ruins of two crematoria.
Standing before one set of brick ovens, the first lady laid a single long-stem red rose on a gurney once used to push bodies into the fire.
Later, Bush said the camps "a monument to the darkest impulses of man. … They remind us that evil is real and must be called by name and must be opposed."
Bush's comments and visit to the notorious camps punctuated his call that the world rise up to combat evil. He linked the September 1939 invasion of Poland that touched off World War II with the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the United States.
"This is a time for all of us to unite in the defense of liberty and to step up to the shared duties of free nations. This is no time to stir up divisions in a great alliance," Bush told a crowd of about 350 people in the courtyard of Krakow's Wawel Castle.
"In order to win the war on terror, our alliances must be strong," Bush said.
Bush's visit to Europe is his first since the war in Iraq. The debate leading up to the conflict revealed a deep rift between the United States and several of its closest allies - France, Germany and Russia - who opposed the use of force to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Bush offered assurances that the trans-Atlantic alliance, forged over 60 years of World War and Cold War, had weathered the storm of bad feelings from the past six months. "The United States is committed to a strong Atlantic alliance to ensure our security, to advance human freedom and to keep peace in the world," he said.
Bush also announced a "Proliferation Security Initiative" to search for suspect cargo on planes and ships, and called on the G-8 partners to follow through on financial commitments to end the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Recognizing the strain that the Iraq question placed on U.S.-European relations, Bush said nations were forced to make "difficult decisions about the use of military force to keep the peace. We have seen unity and common purpose. We have also seen debate - some of it healthy, some of it divisive."
But he added: "New theories of rivalry should not be permitted to undermine the great principles and obligations that we share. The enemies of freedom have always preferred a divided alliance, because when Europe and America are united, no problem and no enemy can stand against us."
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