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Obama's Uncle and the Liberation of Auschwitz

Updated 6:12 p.m.
By Jonathan Weisman
In the annals of the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama's Auschwitz moment may yet become the stuff of legend.

For months, the Republican National Committee, grumbling John McCain staffers and an array of conservative bloggers have tried to label Obama as a serial exaggerator and an heir to Al Gore, who Republicans successfully tarred in 2000 as someone who claimed to have discovered Love Canal and invented the Internet.

It just wasn't sticking.

Now, they think they've caught him red handed.

Obama didn't mince words in the story of his uncle yesterday in New Mexico. As he spoke of the need to provide combat veterans better health care, especially better mental health care, Obama let loose a three-Pinocchio doozy:

"I had a uncle who was one of the, who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps," Obama said, slowly and methodically. "And the story in my family is that when he came home, he just went into the attic, and he didn't leave the house for six months. Alright? Now, obviously something had affected him deeply, but at the time, there just weren't the kinds of facilities to help somebody work through that kind of pain."

That may be a fact, the RNC noted gleefully -- but only if Obama's uncle served in the Red Army of Joseph Stalin, which liberated Auschwitz Jan. 27, 1945.

The Obama campaign says the mistake was not as horrific as it might seem. His uncle was there at the liberation of Buchenwald. Obama just confused the names of the concentration camps.

"Senator Obama's family is proud of the service of his grandfather and uncles in World War II - especially the fact that his great uncle was a part of liberating one of the concentration camps at Buchenwald. Yesterday he mistakenly referred to Auschwitz instead of Buchenwald in telling of his personal experience of a soldier in his family who served heroically," said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton this afternoon in a statement, which also clarified that the great-uncle "Served in the 89th Infantry Division that Liberated Ohrdruf, a Subcamp of Buchenwald, the First Camp Liberated by Americans, on April 4, 1945."

But for conservative bloggers, Obama has finally gone beyond the pale. "Sickening," huffs Red State. "Barack Obama must be the most gaffe-prone politician in memory," reports PowerLine. "The Young Gaffer Sees Dead People," chortles Hot Air.

Obama campaign aides were indignant that Republicans had pounced on what they called an innocent mistake over such a grave subject. Tommy Vietor, an Obama spokesman, decried "using the Holocaust and concentration camps as a political football."

And the RNC did appear to temper its condemnation. Initially, RNC spokesman Alex Conant had blasted "Barack Obama's dubious claim" as "inconsistent with world history."

"Obama's frequent exaggerations and outright distortions raise questions about his judgment and his readiness to lead as commander in chief," Conant said this afternoon.

By this evening, the tone had changed.

"At times it appears that Barack Obama inaccurately recalls his own history and American history, so it's important that we point to the facts. In this case, we're happy to see that he took the time to set the record straight," Conant said.

By Web Politics Editor  |  May 27, 2008; 5:41 PM ET
Categories:  The Debate Rages On...  
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