JERUSALEM -- President Obama paid tribute to the victims of the Holocaust in a solemn visit Friday to the national Yad Vashem memorial, drawing lessons for today from that dark period in history.
Standing beside a memorial to the children who perished, Obama said the lives memorialized at Yad Vashem should inspire people to resist racism, bigotry and hatred wherever they encounter it.
"Here we learn that we are never powerless," Obama told a small gathering on a mount overlooking Jerusalem. "In our lives we have choices, to succumb to our worst instincts or to summon the better angels of our nature. . . . We have a choice to acquiesce to evil or make real our solemn vow -- never again."
After he spoke, a survivor of the Buchenwald concentration camp offered a comparison between the Nazi genocide of the Jews and the looming Iranian nuclear threat, suggesting that Obama must help protect the Jewish people.
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, told Obama and his entourage about a Buchenwald liberator who sought him out 68 years after the war and asked his forgiveness "for being late."
"Don't be too late," Lau then said to Obama, clearly alluding to discussions between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about how close Iran is to developing a nuclear weapon and when diplomacy should give way to military action.
As Lau spoke, Obama smiled and nodded.
With his first presidential visit to Israel, Obama tried to quell concerns about his commitment to the Jewish state and its historic ties to the land of Israel.
After spending two days spelling it out in public remarks and in symbolic acts, Obama on Friday laid a stone at the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, fulfilling a top request of his Israeli hosts.
The stop at Herzl's grave, together with Thursday's visit to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, the ancient Hebrew texts, were symbolic stops for Obama that acknowledged a rationale for Israel's existence that rests with its historical ties to the region and with a vision that predated the Holocaust.
Obama has been criticized in Israel for a 2009 speech in Cairo in which he gave only the example of the Holocaust as a reason for justifying Israel's existence.
"Here on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear," Obama said. "The state of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust, but with the survival of a strong Jewish state of Israel, such a holocaust will never happen again."
After visiting Yad Vashem (literally, "a memorial and a name"), Obama had a working lunch with Netanyahu.
Afterward, he toured the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, then departed for Jordan.
After arriving in Amman, Obama, anxious to keep neighboring Syria's civil war from spiraling into even worse problems, Obama said he worries about that country becoming a haven for extremists when -- not if -- President Bashar Assad is ousted from power.
The president, standing side by side with Jordan's King Abdullah II, said the international community must work together to ensure there is a credible opposition ready to step into the breach.
"Something has been broken in Syria, and it's not going to be put back together perfectly immediately -- even after Assad leaves," Obama said, "but we can begin the process of moving it in a better direction, and having a cohesive opposition is critical to that."
He said Assad is sure to go but that there is great uncertainty about what will happen after that.