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tv   The Presidency Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Holocaust  CSPAN  August 19, 2021 1:59pm-2:38pm EDT

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man who later occupied the white house. next on the presidency, his granted daughter, susan eisenhower, talks about what led like to the decision. she's the author of how ike led. the principles behind eisenhower's biggest decisions. the united states holocaust memorial museum hosted this conversation and provided the video. >> today is holocaust remembrance day. 76 years ago soviet troops liberated the auschwitz camp complex including the killing center and people around the world pause today on this somber anniversary to honor the memory of europe's jews who the nazis attempted on annihilate. it a day to remember the holocaust era and keep the historical record as we have fewer and fewer eyewitnesses to these events. please join me in welcoming today's guest, susan eisenhower.
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good morning. >> it is a pleasure to be with you today. thank you for the opportunity and also the honor of presenting today for the international holocaust remembrance day. >> it is an honor to have you. for those of you not familiar with susan, she is an accomplished scholar whose most recent book is titled, how ike led. the principles behind eisenhower's biggest decisions. you may be familiar, or you are likely familiar with her grandfather, dwight d. eisenhower. either as the united states president between the years 1953 to '61, or during world war ii as the supreme commander of the allied expeditionary force in europe. today we want to focus on a lesser known but incredibly important aspect of eisenhower's legacy. his determination to document the crimes that we now refer to as the holocaust. even as the allies continued their fight against nazi germany. eisenhower recognized then that
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one day some might deny truth about the atrocities committed against european jews and other victim groups. during the course of today's show, please post your questions for susan in the comments section and we'll get to as many of them live as possible. so let's begin by understanding a little bit of the forces that shaped your grandfather's background. what was he born and raised and what was family like for him growing up? >> well, ike was actually born in dennison, tennessee, but grew up in abilene, kansas, and he was part of the german-american community that had emigrated to the united states in 1741. this family were deep believers in pacifism. they abhorred alcohol, cigarettes and dancing and they were a religious family. you can see ike on the extreme left. he's the blond of the family. these are six -- six boys altogether.
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there were seven sons originally, one died in infancy. so ike was a real student of history as a young boy, and often had to be reminded that he should put down his history books. as a matter of fact, his mother locked them up in the closet, but actually of all of those boys, ida eisenhower said her son ike had the most to learn. he was a passionate character. he was alert to injustice. he had a temper that his parents had to teach him how to control, and altogether, i guess he was a bit of a handful. but certainly going to west point changed much of that and you just saw a wonderful picture of him in high school. >> and you mentioned they were a very religious family, pacifist. his mother ida was in fact a mennonite. >> she was. this was a subgroup and they were called river brethren. it was a large community that
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left pennsylvania and went to abilene, kansas n the late 1800s. >> it must have been quite the statement for ike and you told me i can call him ike, i don't want to be disrespectful and to go from this background to the military academy. tell us about that trajectory and how he rose through ranks of the armed forces. >> well, the eisenhower family were farming people. and my great-grandfather, david jacob eisenhower, did not want to be a farmer and tried his hand in business which wasn't terribly successful. so he had a modest job at the abilene creamery. they couldn't afford to keep their kids through college and ike put his older brother through college, but then went to west point because of the free education and i think it also merged with his interest in history and military history. >> and i want to take a moment to acknowledge visitors -- not visitors, viewers, i'm used to speaking in museum terms, but unfortunately our doors are
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closed now due to the pandemic and we're pleased to welcome viewers from around the world. good morning, thank you for joining us or afternoon wherever you are in hampshire, in the united kingdom. hello in toronto, peru, london, also in the uk. we're glad to have viewers from sao paulo, brazil, mexico, here in the united states, florida, jackson county, michigan, north and just up the road in wilmington, delaware. greetings, and thank you for joining us. so when general eisenhower became the supreme allied commander during the war in europe, what were his responsibilities in this role and his approach to them? >> well, actually, dwight eisenhower was the strategic leader. he was a supreme commander, and his job was to reconcile all the factors involved in any military
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operation and, of course, when he is given that appointment, he has been given the appointment for operation overlord which is what we often call d-day. his job was to rationalize the strategic objectives with logistics, with the use of forces, with the politics, with everything that goes in to making a successful operation. this is -- this is actually one of my favorite pictures of ike during the war. he's actually here talking to the 101st airborne division, literally within an hour they're going to take off for the coast of normandy in what is one of the largest and amphibious landings in history. this is one of the largest operations ever and there were a lot of factors there. including a very dicey weather forecast. as you know, paratroopers have to have the capacity to see their targets so this was a very
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important moment for ike to be going out and looking in the eyes of his soldiers, and to make a connection with them. i think his feeling was is that he wanted to know and see the people who would have an impact. who his decisions would impact. and i think it's a very moving picture because you get some sense of his humanity there. >> yeah. such a powerful image and we know not unique, that he made it a point to personally greet thousands upon thousands of soldiers, whatever their rank, that he took their risks and sacrifices very, very seriously. >> well, that's right. he felt that morale had to be an input to any successful operation rather than just the result of victory. so he thought it was important that they knew that the supreme commander cared about them and understood the challenges in front of them. >> kind of a lump in the throat type interaction to imagine.
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but i'd like to turn to the transformational moment from the following year, during the last week of the war in april 1945. the sub camp of the concentration camp it was liberated by the u.s. forces and reports quickly got back to general eisenhower and he insisted to see for himself what was uncovered there. what did he find there? >> first, driving into the area, apparently, the atmosphere was overwhelming. the smell of decaying flesh was overwhelming, and already dwight eisenhower and general george patton could tell they were about to enter some kind of a really dire situation. it was so bad, as a matter of fact, general patton, you know, deferred going into certain
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parts of the camp because he felt he was getting sick. now, ike learning extreme self-discipline finally as a kid really felt it was important to look in -- as he said, every nook and cranny of the camp because he wanted to bear witness to what had occurred there. however, if you look at these pictures which are really rather remarkable, you can see a very defiant stance in eisenhower's physical composure there and, you know, you can see a kind of set jaw. as a matter of fact, after this incident, he went back to patton's headquarters and told his valet that he had never been so angry in his life. that the english language didn't even have words that could describe what he saw. he was astonished at the hideous ways the germans had for treating and disposing of these bodies and all of it was in a violation of every rule of war that had ever been written. so eisenhower determined you can
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see he's got his hands on his hips there. i mean, i'll tell you, in family body language, hands on the hips means something serious as does the firm jaw that you can see. in any case, i think it was -- of course, it was critically important that he went through quote/unquote every nook and cranny because he wrote to winston churchill and he said, everything you read in the paper about this does not adequately describe what has really happened here. >> and indeed, he demonstrated the impact of that, the pain of what he had seen in his actions over the subsequent weeks when he was surely very, very busy winning the war. the war was not over. but after witnessing ordrough, he recognized that some day some
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might deny the crimes, they'd be too extreme to be believable. what actions did he take? >> well, i have to say that was what impressed me most about researching all this because that evening, after he got back from ordruff, he sent a message to george marshall, chief of staff of the army, and said -- first of all, he said that the camp beggared description. he had all kinds of adjectives including bestiality. but as he later said those words were inadequate. he wanted general marshall to send members of congress, reporters and ike also ordered anybody close to those camps or all officers who were not at the front to go to these camps to chronicle it. as a matter of fact, you know, many of those pictures including our own family collection represent photos that were taken there by my father. >> and when we were prepping for this show, you described to me i thought it was a really powerful
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turn of phrase that eisenhower had an extraordinary talent for thinking in time. this capacity to project really, really far ahead. could you comment on that a little? >> well, i think, again, what i found remarkable about this was eisenhower's capacity to in real time, to look at what he was seeing and then allowing his mind to work beyond the current shock and he was in shock. as a matter of fact, his valet said when he came back, his face was like his valet had never seen his face before. but yet, while he was looking at this truly disturbing scene, he was thinking about 50 years from now and he knew that the horrors were so beyond imagination that if this didn't get chronicled people would say it never happened or it would be put down to fake news or propaganda or whatever.
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and he made a very, very big point in the last weeks of the war to make sure that these things were chronicled and the army was sent in to take documentary footage so that later they could be shown to the german population as we got into the accountability phase of this terrible war. >> before we turn more specifically to the german population, i would like to quote more extensively from the telegram sent to george marshall and part of it is quoted in the museum here in washington at the outset of our permanent exhibition and it reads, quote, i made the visit deliberately in order to be in a position to give first hand evidence of these things if ever in the future there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to nearly quote/unquote propaganda. for viewers who are watching, please look at the links in the comments section.
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you'll see that you can participate in a crowdsourcing project. a project we have called history unfolded in which you can learn how american newspapers at the time reported on eisenhower's push on his invitation to u.s. congressmen and to journalists to come and bear witness for themselves. but susan, you just mentioned he felt it was important to compel ordinary germans to see the camps and to see the crimes committed in their names. let's show a clip from the time that illustrates that endeavor. >> nazi party leaders and office holders were commanded to visit concentration camps in the neighborhood of their cities. they were forced to see with their own eyes crimes whose existence they had indignantly denied.
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all citizens were ordered to visit the concentration camp at weimar. they started the trip as though they were going on a picnic. after all, it was only a short walk from any german city to the nearest concentration camp, but there was no picnic behind the barbed wire. death was the only one who feasted here. each and every one has been murdered on orders of the nazi high command. >> susan, that's not easy footage to watch. it certainly couldn't have been an easy experience at the time. why did your grandfather find so it important that average civilians be brought in to witness these atrocities? >> well, there were many people
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at the end of the war who said they didn't know, and ike had very little patience for that. he felt if they didn't know, they were closing their eyes to it or those who said they were only following orders did not cut mustard with general eisenhower. he believed this was a responsibility in the orders that you accepted. i must say that the other rather interesting thing is he put out orders that townspeople should come in and give the holocaust victims a dignified burial. that must have been every bit as searing to the german population as having to go in and witness the camps. later a documentary film was put together and it was circulated around germany and the german population was compelled to watch it. >> we do have in our collection still photos and i believe film footage that shows some of those burials happening. i can't help but think looking at the clip we just saw about the young children who were brought there, they're the only ones who would still be alive
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from that scene today. but clearly, that's something that would have been seared into their memories. we have a viewer question, susan. a woman named sandy is asking is what do you think your grandfather would say to the deniers of the holocaust now? >> i think he'd have very little patience for it and i think he would depending on how widespread it was, i think he would, of course, well, he bore witness to it so he'd be able to validate its reality. it's a little hard to take him out of the era because i dare say we wouldn't get into the situation that we have a post truth environment where people feel like what they want to think is legitimate and fair game.
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but anyway, it's a good thing that he did put together this -- or encourage the collection of these important documents. it's so widespread, there's so much of it that it's impossible to deny that this happened. >> and susan, it wasn't just an impact on your grandfather, but on many generations of your family. i know from speaking with you that you were quite young when you learned about the holocaust. your father, john, had graduated from west point only months before enlisting and he was among the troops that were called to witness the camps. what did your father tell you about his experience in his case at the concentration camps? >> he not only described what he saw but he had taken a significant number of photographs. he was an amateur photographer anyway, but they were encouraging young officers, anybody who was in the camps to actually take pictures so it would add to the volume of evidence we have. my father thought that was such an important chapter of world war ii that we were raised on those photographs. i can't tell you how many times
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i had been through that photograph album that is largely focused on what he saw at buchenwald and my father made sure that my children and grandchildren saw the pictures before he died. again, he must have had some kind of a feeling that even though we couldn't bear witness directly, we had to tie his knowledge to him and his credibility. it was an important thing for all of our family. >> and that somehow that responsibility to bear witness is transitive, that it is carried on, a burden carried on from generation to generation. >> it must be. otherwise, there's room for the deniers and the liars to make inroads into what public
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understanding is. this is one reason i think with the national -- the holocaust national memorial and museum, this is such an important benchmark for our country and for the other museums that are similar to it around the world. >> i'd like to encourage our viewers to post your questions for susan in the comment section, but to change course a little bit here, because we're lucky not only are you a scholar of history, of the soviet union, of your grandfather, but you are also a granddaughter and i'm hoping you can give us some personal insights. tell us about off duty ike, what he was like as a grandfather and a family man? >> well, his high school yearbook, he graduated from west point in 1915. he was described as big as life and twice as natural. and i have to say that really just beautifully summarized his personality. what a big figure, i mean, in every conceivable way and what a smile. so i must say that in writing "how ike led" i knew about the
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decisions, of course. but then for the first time in my life i have put it together with what i know about him as a person and i think the thing that's just extraordinary is how he managed some of the most consequential decisions of the 20th century and kept his calm. we would have -- i discovered that occasions when we were getting together with our grandparents overlapped with major crises in the civil rights movement. so all of those things come together to make me realize that actually self-discipline was something that he exercised well, but he was always optimistic and given the dark things he saw during world war ii, i'm surprised in retrospect he could keep his optimistic center at all times. finally, let me say, he had a wonderful, wonderful kind side.
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look at the face of the grandfather, right? that's taken -- >> -- that's -- >> i'm sorry? >> that's you on his lap. >> yeah, that was at camp david in 1954. i was 17 years old when he died so we had tremendous opportunity to be with my grandparents during those years. and i can tell you that he loved kids, and he always used to give us advice whether we wanted it or not. but one of the big pieces of advice is you have to be for something. you can't be against things all the time. you have to be for something, and that's always stayed with me. i think it is at the -- you know, it's fundamentally about optimism. >> you have shared with me that, in fact, he was also a painter in his spare time. could you talk a little bit about that because i was surprised to hear that. >> this was something very much part of my childhood, ike at the easel. there's a picture that he's doing right there, as you can
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see, of my mother and three of the four of us before my younger sister was born. and he painted after the war he started it, but throughout his presidency and post presidency, and he did it as a way of centering himself. if you have these enormous responsibilities and complex set of circumstances, he believed it was very important to go, let your mind work, settle down and let the various levels of your brain produce some new insights into the problems at hand. >> it's what we would today called mindfulness. >> exactly. that's a great way to put it. >> i'm struck by talking to you, he hated war, he had a prescience about him, a sort of forth sight and a self-awareness that one needs balance in life in order to navigate such
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heavy weights. >> the balanced thing is very important, and so you can even see it in the way he handles big issues like u.s./german relations, a balance of accountability and eventual reconciliation. this is all part of balance. >> could you talk more about what he witnessed, what he saw, what his experiences are, how he then translated that into recognizing the dangers of ostracizing germany after the war? >> i think this is my speculation, but i'm thinking of a young boy who grew up in a german american household where a lot of german food was consumed. his uncles all spoke -- uncles and aunts spoke german, they spoke english too, but they spoke german and then to go and watch the events unfold and be in a position of power to change
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the trajectory of history. i was thinking sometimes as i wrote this book about the painting, and what he was processing in his own mind about good and evil, about his ethnic roots, about what turns the civilized people into maniacs. you know, i don't know that there's another word for it, into people who are so fanatical that they will do things that are completely inhuman. i think, you know, he was very aware of the conditions that brought germany to that point and the dangers of really dangerous leadership. and so i think this is one reason why he felt, you know, it's important to find a path of reconciliation with the germans after they had taken full account of what they did during the war. >> and i remember that even just within days of accepting the
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unconditional surrender of nazi germany he said to his staff, quote, we will know we have won this war if 50 years from now germany is a prosperous democracy. what did he mean by that do you think? >> i think he meant the end of the war is really the beginning of a new chapter, and it's -- when he decided to run for president, he thought that it was his duty to try and win the peace and i think this was exemplified by the fact that in 1955, exactly ten years to the very day of the unconditional surrender of nazi germany, dwight eisenhower brought west germany into the nato alliance. in what one german described to me as it's our iron embrace. >> very powerful and not necessarily the path that everyone would have followed
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after those experiences and i do want to acknowledge a viewer named valerie who had written in about the effects on eisenhower from viewing and memorializing the atrocities. i think you described a lot of those to us. we have another question from a viewer named david. this might be more of a historian question for me, david is asking didn't the u.s. military have definitive proof of the details of the death camps prior to actually liberating one? why was it such a shock to the military? a very complex question, david. it depends who you're talking about in the case of -- yes, the united states government did at the highest levels have irrefutable evidence of the scale of nazi crimes and some of the details of the mechanics of it, but the average united states soldier was not sent to europe with the goal of liberating jews, that was never the military priority. i remember in particular a man named irving haymonth, he described himself not as a camp
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liberator, but as an overrunner, but he felt that the term liberator implied intent. he and his fellow brothers in arms overran the sites in the course of achieving a different military mission which was the defeat of germany. and that if you think about someone who's 18 or 19 years old, a young soldier who might have seen small news reports but not with the kind of photographs we're used to now, not with the sort of vivid and brutal newsreel footage that we just saw, how could you not be shocked as a human being to witness first hand, to see people who look like skeletons, to smell the smells, to see the scale of it. so i think it's very different to talk about knowledge and understanding and also at those different levels of responsibility and access to information.
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>> and without the defeat of nazi germany, this would all be an academic question. i mean, the end of naziism made it possible also to assure that these camps were shut down for good. but you're right, it's a complex question. eisenhower does say that he had gotten secondary reports of these things, but, you know, i think it's fair to say who could even imagine, really? who could imagine, even if -- he warned churchill even if ike tried to describe it, the english language doesn't have words for it. so i'll just leave my part of that question there. >> this reminds me actually of words from one of the holocaust survivors who volunteers at our museum, a woman named auggie and she was asked at the time of a dedication of a new memorial to general and president eisenhower to reflect on what he meant to her, and she said i shall never forget the moment when we saw the american troops and heard a voice telling us, you are free. it was indescribable. unbelievable. it was a miracle. my four great-grandchildren
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would not be here today if not for general eisenhower and the american soldiers who fought so courageously. so i think it just helps us to remember the human impact and magnified by thousands and thousands and thousands of people including those of the soldiers who lost their lives in fighting for that victory. susan, in the time we have left, i want to turn a little bit more to the analytical side of your most recent book, which is about eisenhower's approach as a leader. what inspired you to write this book and what were some unique aspects of his vision of leadership that you think might speak to us now in this present moment? >> well, first of all, it might interest you to know i got the idea to write this book at one of the holocaust commemorations. i was invited to attend one of the dinners that marked this
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important date, and when i heard somebody stand up and talk about this visit to ordruff, suddenly in my mind it clicked i wonder why he to so much trouble to get this chronicled. it wasn't in his job description. nowhere in his job description does it say to do anything other than destroy nazi power. and so then i thought, he didn't have to do it, so why did he do it? i started getting curious about that particular element. the more i looked is that his career, i saw that he was often telling hard truths to those he was closely associated with. i'm not saying he was closely associated with germany, except ethnically, but you know, he was a truth teller and he also had an uncanny capacity to assess whether or not something he was doing could be sustained over a
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longer period of time. now, in sheer leadership, he believed that accountability, truth telling and building positive relationships, you know, were fundamental to his leadership and i think we see it time and time again in his record. so it's very moving to be on this program specifically because it was the holocaust museum and all you do there that really gave me the inspiration to look into how brave it was, even to admit that the stock from which he came could have been so compromised and, you know, in terms of its own moral standing. again, there are no words in the english language for anything we're discussing here. >> well, thank you for that, susan. i know i speak for my colleagues
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when i say that we're very grateful and humble if at all we could offer you some inspiration or food for thought in how to approach your own history, your own work in a new way. we're in extraordinarily fractured moment in our history and what's particularly troubling is that many americans don't share a common understanding of what is credible or what is true. susan, a viewer named lisa is asking what can we do personally to address the so-called post truth we find ourselves in currently? and what do you think that general eisenhower's ideas can offer us today? >> first of all there's no such thing as post truth. we have only called it that because we had given up trying to reason with our neighbors who think something completely differently than we do about the facts.
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ike was very facts oriented. you can't fight a war without needing to know the facts. and so i'm sure if he were alive today he would be talking about the importance of finding facts we can all agree upon. but, frankly, at the end of the day, it's a failure of leadership. if certain people held political positions right now were willing to help educate their followers who believe that something that happened -- i mean, who believed a set of untruths. this is a dangerous time for this country because we don't want some of these situations to fester. that was the thing about world war ii. it would be hard to imagine a germany today if the day hadn't been held accountable. so i think we have to hold our public figures accountable. those who lie and tell people things that aren't true, need to be held accountable in the marketplace of ideas and we have to be better neighbors to those that we disagree with and i
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think that civility if it starts with us might make its way up the political and intellectual chain. >> well, general and president eisenhower embodied a lot of the values and i can see he has passed them on to you. i want to end on a more personal note, susan. we have a comment from a viewer named kathy, and she writes that my dad was a member of ike's boys, a group of his bodyguards who deeply respected him and would have done anything for him. after the war was over, this group of men would meet about every five years in a different town in america. any thoughts for kathy? >> well, kathy, this rings absolutely true and i am so lucky in life to be invited often to those reunions, and i
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know about ike's boys and i think it's wonderful that you raise this here today. you know, my grandfather loved those boys, and i think i'm glad to know that it was passed down to you that the feeling was mutual. >> i want to give a special acknowledgment and thanks to the families of many, many liberating soldiers who are sharing their personal stories in our facebook comments today and susan will be glad to share those with you after the program. we're thankful for their bravery and sacrifice and especially to those who did not live to have any descendants. we owe them a great debt. it was a real pleasure to talk to you today about your book and your grandfather as a man, as a leader. general eisenhower recognized there could be future challengers to the truth that we now call holocaust. he anticipated a day like today when we continually confront holocaust denial and his legacy endures in so many ways not
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least in the many lives he helped to save. we are proud to honor eisenhower's extraordinary contributions and you are right now seeing a photograph of the eisenhower plaza. one of the entrances outside of our museum here in washington, d.c. when you're next in washington when travel is safe and possible again also, you can visit the national memorial to president dwight d. eisenhower which opened this past september. ♪♪
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next on the presidency, dwight d. eisenhower's diplomatic and peace making efforts through his military career and presidency. speakers are team members, troy elkins and jeff nelson of the eisenhower presidential library and museum, which hosted this event and provided the video. >> how would a person that spent a majority of their life studying war, learning how to apply not just man power but technology, industry and everything towards fighting major battles? it's weird. it seems weird that the man that studied all this, who ended up leading an allied army of


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