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It's Nothing New

Thanks to a link from one of my Obama-admiring commenters (thank you, Robert), we learn that Obama's tales of Americans liberating Auschwitz didn't start this weekend. He was telling similar stories about his grandfather back in 2002, in his now-famous Iraq speech, which I'd never previously read:

My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton's army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka.

The first troops to enter those two camps (in Poland) were Soviet troops, so unless Patton was leading them, this can't be true.

As I noted in comments, you'd think that if he's going to be telling these kinds of stories, he'd at least attempt to make them plausible (e.g., Dachau and Buchenwald). My guess is that he's unfamiliar with the actual history of the war, and just invoked two of the most notorious camp names to make his point. Whether his grandfather (or "uncle") actually told him tales of concentration camps will probably never be known.

It's interesting that no one has ever noticed this historical discrepancy before, considering how such a big deal has been made of that speech. This should also knock the legs out from under arguments from the Obama camp that he didn't really say "Auschwitz," and that it was CBS and other news sources putting the word in his mouth.

My guess? He's just making this stuff up. Because it sounds good to the ignorant rubes, and he's a good speechifier. It's all part of that "new politics" we've heard so much about.

[Update a couple minutes later]

I'm hearing a report on Fox News, where they have video of his uncle story. Yes, he really said that he liberated Auschwitz, and then hid in the attic for six months.

[Another update]

OK, in Obama days, "the next day" means over half a year later in June of 1942. Just another "mistake," I'm sure.

[Update on Wednesday morning]

I have a follow-up post. It turns out that he may not even have been in the army at all.


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» Obama Uncle Auschwitz Liberator! from Right Pundits

Barack Obama tells group that his uncle helped liberate Auschwitz as World War II was ending. Read more and see photos and video below. Obama Uncle Auschwitz Liberator Barack Obama is all things to all people. He proved that again yesterday by tellin... Read More


Robert wrote:

So, the Obama campaign says that Obama was mistaken - it was "his great uncle, who was a member of the 89th Infantry Division that liberated the Ohrduf camp, part of Buchenwald", (ref: and that Obama was mistaken when he said Auschwitz instead of Buchenwald.

Do you think the Obama campaign is lying? Given that the uncle has been identified and is alive, the Obama campaign is making an easily verifiable claim.

And wasn't the 2002 speech good? Nevermind the rhetoric - look at what the speech says about Carl Pham calls Obama's "core values". It was gutsy of Obama to give that speech to a bunch of "war, what's it good for?" leftists.

Rand Simberg wrote:

Do you think the Obama campaign is lying??

Well, it's certainly true that Obama was mistaken, so I guess they're not lying...

The question is, how did the mistake happen? Anyone familiar with the history of World War II would have said "Huh"? at the story. Why didn't Obama?

Robert wrote:

Auschwitz, as the best known camp, has become a symbol for all the camps. Given that we remember themes more readily than facts, it isn't surprising that Obama's memory of childhood stories would involve the substitution of a symbolic name for the correct name, even if it didn't make sense geographically.

I don't think the public will see this case of name substitution as a Gerald Ford style "Poland is free" type gaffe about post-war Polish geo-politics, but we'll see!

Habitat Hermit wrote:

If Obama becomes the nominee it would be strange if one didn't see stuff like this pointed out repeatedly, a bit strange that it isn't already happening by Democrats (most of the MSM) since it's pretty much the same as Hillary's sniper fire.

Oh that's right they wouldn't have anyone to vote for if they did it equally to both, my bad carry on ^_^

baldilocks wrote:

Hi Rand,

Thanks for the link.

Tully wrote:

Some digging turns up even more confusing stuff. Such as his great-uncle maybe having joined the Navy, not the Army.

Yeah, the middle initial may have been misreported at some point, or he my have joined in a different state, but I would want to see a 1945 roster for a unit of the 89th that listed a Charles Payne of Kansas before my BS detectors would drop off of high alert. if he couldn't have heard those stories back home, etc.

Finish those essays!

Bird wrote:

If Bush mispronounced a word, the Left would go ballistic and the insults would fly. This guy blows substance so often, that you have to wonder if he can distinguish between fact and fiction.

Mike wrote:

Have we all forgotten that Reagan used to claim he'd personally taken part in liberating concentration camps?

Rand Simberg wrote:

Have we all forgotten that Reagan used to claim he'd personally taken part in liberating concentration camps?

You know, "Mike," we might take this "claim" a little more seriously if you provided a credible citation...

What I Think wrote:

I think Mike has Ronald Reagan confused with Chuck Norris. Easy to do.

amr wrote:

Here is where one can search for military recordsfor Charles Payne- It's slow but usable.

ChknLtL wrote:

I'm old enough to remember the photos and news reels that kept coming and coming from camp after liberated camp. Many of my father's friends returned home from Europe silent and at last grew into old men who still could not speak of what they saw, not only as soldiers before VE Day, but as soldiers of the Occupation, long after the war was over and the last of the camp survivors had been evacuated. The same hideous sequence was repeated in the Pacific theater.

Yes, the unfamiliar names of the camps all ran together after a while. But under whatever name, the horror was real and the "attic" an apt metaphor for its lasting effects on the witnesss.
In this larger context, the family story Obama told was not a lie, just mistaken in its details.

But this story was not told in a larger context or as a cautionary tale. It's been told over and over for personal gain by a political punk who belongs to a club whose members and mouthpieces routinely call everything coming out of President Bush's mouth a lie.

In this context, I'd say calling it a lie and calling Obama a liar is just a matter of chickens coming home to roost.

Robert wrote:

I don't think Ronald Regan's credibility has any bearing on Obama's, but for what it is worth, since I remembered the original flap, I looked online references.

There are references to Ronald Reagan's claim that he personally filmed a liberated concentration camp story all over the internet. I realize a skeptic will challenge most of these references, but I lost patience before I found a definitive reference.

One reference I've found comes from Edmund Morris' "Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan". I don't have the text from the book, but wikipedia article on Regan's presidency says "In 1983, he told prominent Jews — notably Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir of Israel, Simon Wiesenthal, and Rabbi Marvin Hier of Los Angeles — of his personal experience vis-à-vis the Holocaust, saying "I was there," and that he had assisted at the liberation of Nazi death camps. The wikipedia article then cites "Morris, Edmund (1999), p. 113."

Other references:
(The above reference has the most detail - it extensively quotes "President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime", by Lou Cannon),8599,98224,00.html

I also saw a refutation in the National Review which claimed that the story arose because Wiesenthal didn't understand English properly, and didn't understand that Reagan had merely reviewed the tapes in the US. That refutation is refuted by people who point out that while Wiesenthal's English might have been poor, the Americans accompanying him understood English quite well. I've discarded most of the references I found, but perhaps this comment will bolster Mike's own credibility (at the very least, there is a well known controversy here) and maybe it will spur someone to uncover more of the truth.

memomachine wrote:


What I find curious is that someone else pointed out that in Obama's autobiography "Dreams of my father" his grandfather supposedly never saw combat.

Person of Choler wrote:

Obama has no fully formulated policy ideas, no consistent discernable set of values, and no personal experience that relates to the Presidency. So, he has to sell himself to the electorate with personal anecdotes. Since his life experience has been limited and sheltered, he has to embellish his stories.

Because of the war and the fact that it was Memorial Day, he needed military anecdotes but never had contact with the Armed Services. Thus, he told stories (true, enhanced, or made up) about his relatives.

Wait until the All Star Game when he needs to talk about baseball. We'll hear about the two years he played as a utility infielder in the Hanseatic League.

Shoeless wrote:

Didn't Patton lead america's forces in the Pacific?

Peter wrote:

I am not real big on defending Democrats but at the beginning of American involvement in WW2 we didn't have much of an Army. Young men lined up at the recruiters on 8 Demember, 1941. Many, perhaps most, were given the tests and physicals and then sent home to wait for a spot in recruit training.
So, could his Grandfather or great Uncle have volunteered in December and not gone in until June? Maybe.

PrestoPundit wrote:

Also this:

Obama's grandfather, Stanley A. Dunham, didn't enlist the day after Pearl Harbor as Obama says. He enlisted Jan. 18, 1942 according to army records available at

Transterrestrial Reader wrote:

Let's not forget his comment about their being 57 states!

Do readers think if Obama ever becomes president, David Letterman will have Great moment in Presidential Speechmaking and rip into Obama's future gaffes the same way he rips into President Bush's?

Carl Pham wrote:

Robert, you don't give speeches to demonstrate your core values. Anybody can do that, and does. Joe Stalin claimed to love equality and peace.

What you need to do is act. Take a stand. Do something. What's Obama done?

And if you think giving speeches to folks who have no where else to go (the left of the Democratic Party) that might not totally agree with every word you say is the definition of courage...hmmm. Then you should talk to any random jarhead back from a tour in Iraq. Or, for that matter, John McCain.

There's much about McCain not to like, but one thing that is admirable is that the man never talks about his wartime service. About all he says is what most folks who've really been there say, which is that all the real heroes are dead.

I dunno what the fuss is about "liberating" Buchenwald or Dachau or any of that is, anyway. Some kind of postmodern FeelYourPain kind of "courage," I guess. The courage to look upon horror and -- what? Not go mad? Feel really really bad? Cry a lot?

It's not like there was any serious fighting to do liberating the camps. It was all over by then, and the guards had often fled. father's wife's father landed at Omaha Beach in 1944 and walked all the way to Berlin, through the best of what the Wehrmacht had to offer. That's service. Then there's the guys who landed at Iwo Jima. That's courage. Or the flyers at the battle of the Coral Sea. Or the men who marched down the Bataan Peninsula. Or the campaign for Sicily. There are thousands of names, thousands of battles in which men had to advance under withering fire, and did what had to be done, at enormous personal cost. Places where 1 guy out of 2, or even 1 guy out of 3, or sometimes (in the submarine service) 0 out of 150, came home afterward. I don't quite see how merely witnessing the ultimate horror of the camps comes up to the same standard of courage and service.

Robert wrote:

Carl, to understand why concentration camps are being discussed, go back and look at Obama's words.'s_Iraq_Speech

Regardless of which concentration camps he named, Obama was explaining why it can be worth going to war. The concentration camps illustrate the fact that our enemies were evil and worth fighting, although, of course, America went to war to preserve our civilization rather than to liberate the concentration camps.

"My grandfather signed up for a war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, fought in Patton’s army. He saw the dead and dying across the fields of Europe; he heard the stories of fellow troops who first entered Auschwitz and Treblinka. He fought in the name of a larger freedom, part of that arsenal of democracy that triumphed over evil, and he did not fight in vain."

"I don’t oppose all wars."

If you look at the full speech (it is quite short), you'll see how Obama addresses the issue of Saddam's evil nature, and his possible threat to the US, and how it contrasted with the threat posed by Al Queda.

If I was against Obama, I would focus on WMDs - after all, Obama couldn't have known what would be found in Iraq, and I would start raising doubts about Iran and Syria. All this fuss about naming the wrong concentration camp seems like a distraction from the threats that face the United States, and should naturally alarm voters. If I were against Obama, I would try to make this election about how to deal with the ever growing threat of WMDs.

Fletcher Christian wrote:

Mr. Pham:

Liberating the camps may not have taken the same sort of courage as that of the men you mentioned, to whom I might add Fighter Command in 1940, Bomber Command throughout the war and those who landed at Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. Oops, sorry, I forgot those weren't Americans. (Except for ten Americans who braved not the enemy but their own government to fight in 1940.)

They had a different sort of courage. The sort required of rescue workers and medical staff in any disaster you care to name, except more so. The sort required to look upon horror and not go into a killing spree against those responsible, not to break down - but to identify what needs to be done and get it done. I imagine some of the few who were there that are still alive have nightmares still.

Robert wrote:

Since we are talking about the irrelevant but stirring topic of wartime courage, I can't resist mentioning that Winston Churchill asserted that the soldier who demonstrated the most courage in all of WWII was Douglas MacArthur when he flew, unarmed, to Japan for the first time to begin the occupation.

MacArthur flew into an airbase surrounded by armed Japanese soldiers, stepped out of the plane unarmed, and started issuing orders. Even if the ranking Japanese officers hadn't considered a betrayal, any of the thousands of individual infantrymen present could have taken a shot at him. Later, on his way from the airfield to the city, the car he comandeered broke down in the countryside, and again, he stood around unarmed surrounded by armed Japanese infantry who hadn't expected to find themselves face to face with the General. When asked about it later, MacArthur just laughed and said "No one can live forever." (Reference: American Shogun - a great book!)

Josh Reiter wrote:

"Bird wrote:

If Bush mispronounced a word, the Left would go ballistic and the insults would fly. This guy blows substance so often, that you have to wonder if he can distinguish between fact and fiction.
May 27, 2008 6:54 PM


I also didn't get the up roar over the Curious George shift. The left had no problem making t-shirts of George Bush photoshop'd into a monkey.

Andy Freeman wrote:

> Regardless of which concentration camps he named, Obama was explaining why it can be worth going to war.

Most people can manage to tell great truths without lying.

Is he operating under some sort of quota system, where he has to lie every so often?

When you've been claiming that Bush lied because of the 16 words which happen to be true (the Brits did, and still do, believe that Saddam was trying to get yellow cake, something that Joe Wilson confirmed), your guy doesn't get a pass when he lies.

Or, is honesty only an issue when you can use it to attack Repubs?

Sarah wrote:

I think we need to know more before we can judge this story properly. We need to know more about the attic. Where was this attic? And what kind of attic was it? Was it a crawl space with a lot of dust and spiders or was it more in the nature of a loft, properly insulated and furnished? And what did his (Great) Uncle do in the attic? Were other people allowed to visit or did he bar everyone from entering? Did he take his meals in the attic? Was there a radio, did he have books to read? The attic, that's what we need to know here. Forget the concentration camp angle.

Leland wrote:


It is apparent that a best, Obama embellished his story.

Grandfather or Great Uncle
Auschwitz or Buchenwald
December or January
Army or Navy

I'm not sure how many mistakes one can make before something transgresses from a minor error, to a gaffe, to an outright lie.

I'll be charitable and say that two generations ago, Barack Obama's family fought in Europe against people like Mussolini, who once wrote in "The Doctrine of Facism":
"Anti-individualistic, the fascist conception of life stresses the importance of the State and accepts the individual only insofar as his interests coincide with those of the State, which stands for the conscience and the universal will of man as a historic entity.... The fascist conception of the State is all-embracing; outside of it no human or spiritual values can exist, much less have value.... Fascism is therefore opposed to that form of democracy which equates a nation to the majority, lowering it to the level of the largest number.... We are free to believe that this is the century of authority, a century tending to the 'right', a Fascist century. If the nineteenth century was the century of the individual we are free to believe that this is the 'collective' century, and therefore the century of the State."

Personally, I think when Barack Obama says:
In Oregon: "We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times ... and then just expect that other countries are going to say OK"


At Weslayan: "Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation, because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you'll play in writing the next great chapter in America 's story."

This I do know. Barack Obama never served in the military. He never followed in the foot steps of his family before. So at best, I might find his Grandfather or Great Uncle admirable for there service to our country, but their actions are not that of Barack Obama. Here's a question, besides being a politician living in a $1.6 million condo, what individualcharitable service has Barack Obama provided to the United States?

Dave wrote:

Lets get Obama gaffe right, if you listen to his full statement he said there were 57 states he been to, and 1 he hasn't then immeditily afterwards not counting alaska or Hawaii as much as he wanted to because staff wouldn't allow him. So in Obama America there is 60 states.
So lets give him a little credit in that he got the ones digit right at least, even though he dosen't seem to be able to count past 10 or keep track of the tens digit.

Edward Wright wrote:

So, Robert's source is third-hand: a website about a book about a person who claims he heard something.

That's not *quite* the same as having Obama's words on videotape.

Nor is it relevant. Reagan is not running for President. Even if you believe all the slurs thrown at Reagan, even if you think Reagan was the son of Satan, that does not explain Obama's words or why anyone should vote for Obama.

If Obama supporters would rather speak ill of the dead than to defend (speak positively about) their own living candidate, what does that say about "New Politics"?

Carl Pham wrote:

Well, Robert, it's pretty hard to credit the notion that the camps were the main or even a major cause for the Second World War. What Germany did to its Jews (and those in the occupied territories, particularly Poland) was hideous, but even what it did to its own citizens generally is also hideous. Sucks to be put to death in a camp, but it also sucks to be raped and killed by Red soldiers when they roll through a Berlin reduced to rubble and returned to savagery. Or listen to your children suffocate in the rubble of the bombed house while you lie trapped ten feet away.

Then here's what she did to the rest of us. It also sucks to be drafted at 19, sent to France, and watch your buddy's head blown off a week before the armistice. Or be slogging up the Arno and realize no one you got close to in boot camp is still alive. Or be on Iwo and find your friend in a cave with his nuts sliced off and stuffed into his mouth, courtesy of the Japanese.

War is awful, front to back. Singling out the camps as the uniquely awful aspect of the Second World War is what people do who see it all mistily, through a textbook. That would be Obama. I'm not surprised that he reaches back -- embroidering if he must -- to distant family history (of the white family he disdains, incidentally, not the black family he ennobles) to find some personal connection, so he doesn't seem like a total theoretical egghead kind of guy, great with the speeches, but a little short on actual relevant shared life experience.

And, no, if you were against Obama, you wouldn't focus on WMDs, because that issue doesn't look good to the Republicans. That's what you would do if, say, you were an Obama supporter doing a little fifth column work. You would want to turn the attention away from all these little slips and goofs that reveal the scary truth that your guy is an ivory-tower type, another Dukakis frowning to himself over the logical consistency issues in whether to want the death penalty for the killer of Kitty (Dukakis). All talk, no action. All hat, no cattle. Wonderful sounding gassy theory, the kind of inspirational stuff you hear in college graduation speeches -- but very little feel for the real, the practical, the doable.

Robert wrote:

No, I sincerely think the McCain should push the WMD issue.

I supported the invasion of Iraq because I expected to the US to find WMDs. If MAD won't work (because a country is run by a psychopath), they shouldn't have WMDs. I still don't really think Bush _lied_, so much as he, and more importantly, his analysts, weren't properly skeptical of themselves. Fellow liberals I know find my faith in Bush's essential lack of evil to be annoying, but their arguments have never seemed plausible to me (eg we didn't invade Iraq for the oil). I favor Obama primarily because I support the Democrats' domestic agenda. On foreign policy, while I disagree with Obama, I favor him only because I think Obama is more capable of analytical thinking than McCain (or Bush). But I think McCain has thus far demonstrated a better understanding of the risks of WMDs, and he coudl still get my very reluctant vote if he said exactly the right things and Obama said exactly the wrong things on this issue. Rather than being some fifth columnist, I hope McCain pushes Obama to explain his policy on WMDs in greater detail. I'm reassured by Obama's willingness to go to war, and I want to hear more about when he would pre-emptively disarm a country. (And yes, I sure did like Dukakis' willingness to dispassionately think through an issue!)

nancy sabet wrote:

Which of the "57 states" was BO's uncle from? Was it one of those that has typical white people in a snall town clinging to their guns and religion? BTW, was this his favorite, crazy old uncle, Irreverent Wright? People better be careful picking on BO. If they're not careful, he'll get Ayers to jump on them just like he did the flag.

Scary thought this man might be President.

Bert66 wrote:

I just went back and looked at some of the pictures my father brought back from 2 camps his unit helped liberate. (He was in the 11th Armored Division). The thought that this disgraceful man who made sure his children were tained based on the "theology" of James Cone (a vicious racist who is only sorry his rioters didn't kill more Jews in what he claims is the fulfillment of Jesus' second rule) may become the president (in part by "hustling the holocaust" will make it hard to sleep tonight.

try this wrote:

Interesting head of steam some of your commenters have built up. I especially appreciate people critcizing Obama for saying "57 states" (thinking of ketchup, maybe, he visited all the varieties...!) when they themselves can't seem to spell "immeditily."

I agree that Obama misspeaks, and so did Hillary when she said her A/C was under fire, but to criticize them as not being adequate presidential material is to bring two Republican darlings to mind. Bush 43 dismisses competent advisors who tell him things he doesn't want to hear, so don't blame his advisors when he lies, he has chosen them very carefully with his required conclusions firmly in mind. Also, Reagan told several world leaders he was present when some of the concentration camps were liberated, and his people had to spin that like mad -- making him look like he was remembering a film rather than simply lying about an overseas tour he never did. Summary of the Reagan gaffe/spin with followup here:

Andy Freeman wrote:

It's interesting that folks who think that Bush and Reagan were horrible presidents will say that Obama will be good because he has some of the faults that they hated in Bush and Reagan.

It's got to be the ears.

Michael J. Myers wrote:

For what it's worth--assuming that Obama's great uncle was indeed in the 89th Division, the 89thDivision was one of the last to go into combat in Northern Europe. It didn't get to France until January of 1945 having come there directly from the States. Obama's great uncle was supposedly so shocked by what he saw that he went into the attic for 6 months when he came home. If the gentleman was in fact in the 89th he saw no more than 90 days of combat---maximum. As for whether he saw Buchenwald? Who knows? I'm not saying that you couldn't get yourself stressed out by what you saw--but the uncle got there after Normandy and after the Battle of the Bulge and after the Huertgen Forest--much of the "heavy lifting" had been done.

Fletcher Christian wrote:


I think you are a little off regarding the causes of the Iraq war, and the reasons why those who thought and still think it a mistake think so.

Speaking personally, I never did think that the second war in Iraq (which was entirely unnecessary in the first place - the job should have been done right the first time) was anything to do with oil, at least directly. Nor do I think it was anything to do with WMD.

It was a lot simpler than that. 9/11 happened, and there had to be a response - a violent one - to it, or the party in power in America was never going to get re-elected. The real culprits were ideologically tied to a Saudi, followed a Saudi subcult of a religion with its headquarters in Saudi and the money for their activities came from Saudi.

Unfortunately, Saudi Arabia and its royal family were and are untouchable because of their business connections with the buddies and family of the then President. So the attack was carried out - "justified" by a tissue of lies - on a country that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11 except a shared religion. Thus strengthening another gaggle of lunatics (in Iran), killing many more soldiers than necessary and spending far more taxpayers' money - Saudi Arabia would not only have been a pushover, but also been far more profitable (for Americans and the West as a whole, not Bush's buddies) than Iraq.

Having made a monstrously expensive mistake for the sake of personal gain, the error was then compounded by utterly inept handling of the occupation. And this shower of greedy idiots is the leading force of the West? God help the rest of us.

nick wrote:

And Auchshwitz was merely an admin center

it was Birkenau (wow same first letter as buchenwald) where gas chambers were!

you cant get shit right either!

Anonymous wrote:

I think his great uncle was in the soviet army. wouldn't that explain a lot?

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on May 27, 2008 2:23 PM.

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