Second gentleman Doug Emhoff is using his platform to fight antisemitism Second gentleman Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Harris, is increasingly focused on combating antisemitism at home and abroad. He spoke to NPR about his historic role.

Doug Emhoff has made antisemitism his issue, but says it's everyone's job to fight it

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ASMA KHALID, HOST:

In the two years since Doug Emhoff became the country's first second gentleman, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris has leaned into fighting antisemitism and what he calls a worldwide epidemic of hate. I wanted to know why he chose to take on this issue. So I sat down with him near the White House to ask. And he spoke about his recent trip to the site of a former concentration camp and the responsibility of being the first Jewish person in this job.

DOUG EMHOFF: Coming into the role, I thought being the first man would be a big deal.

KHALID: Something people would highlight.

EMHOFF: It's pretty shocking that it took all these years to finally have a woman vice president. But I really thought that would be the big deal. As it turned out, right behind it is being the first Jewish person in this role. And I really started to feel how big a deal that was with the first Passover Seder that we did virtually Year 1 of the administration. And I think tens of thousands of people tuned into that. And I cannot tell you how many people, when I was out and about, traveling the country and the world, would come up to me, or my parents would tell me how many people that affected and impacted. And never - and some were in tears. They never thought they'd see a Jewish person in this role. And I really, then, leaned into it and just decided to continue to live openly, as I had, as a Jewish person.

KHALID: You recently traveled to Poland and Germany. And you toured the sites of former Nazi concentration camps. You also, my understanding is, visited a home that seems like it may have been your family's old home when they were in Poland. Tell us about that trip.

EMHOFF: It was very intense, very emotional, very heavy. And I had seen, like many people have seen, pictures of concentration camps. You've seen the grainy photographs, the horrible images.

KHALID: Had you gone before?

EMHOFF: No. And until you actually step up to that gate and you see the barbed wire, the silence, the coldness, the - you can literally see the despair and the desolation. And then you see the ovens where people were cremated. And you see - they've saved thousands of pairs of shoes, many of them children's shoes. So you see the shoes. You see the eyeglasses that were taken off, the human hair. It is so overwhelming to experience that and to imagine what went on there. I learned just recently as second gentleman that my ancestors came over to the United States around 120 years ago from what is now Poland.

We were able to figure out on this trip, you know, a pretty high degree of certainty, where the records indicate where they lived. And they were lucky. They were the ones who got out. But I also learned, unfortunately, that some of those very same relatives stayed and didn't get out and that were murdered in the Holocaust, shot in the town square. And I was able to see those names at Auschwitz. So a lot of it was just so intense. And - but then, this is a shared experience of millions and millions of people. But I got to experience that. This is very personal.

KHALID: You mentioned this being a shared experience. And yet it seems like these conversations also have taken on a political dimension. And I mention this in part because we've seen politicians on the far right adopting neo-Nazi conspiracy theories. Frankly, we've even seen the former president, who's running for reelection, embrace some of those ideas, you know, have dinner with a white nationalist Holocaust denier. And, you know, you are taking this greater public leadership position on the issue. Are you concerned at all about this ever being perceived as partisan?

EMHOFF: This is not partisan. There's no two sides to hate. There's no two sides to antisemitism. There's no two sides to denying the fact that the Holocaust happened. And so when so-called purported leaders, people in leadership, people who have big microphones, espouse antisemitic tropes, who deny that the Holocaust happened, then that's not partisan at all. I mean, we all must speak out. Speak out and call out when things like that happen. We're working on a national plan for antisemitism and combating hate. But I also want people to be proud of who they are. Like, I love being Jewish. I'm proud of being Jewish. I want everyone, however they are, just to be proud of that so they can be able to live openly, freely, safely, without fear.

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KHALID: You can hear more of my interview with the second gentleman on the latest episode of the NPR Politics Podcast. That's the show that I co-host during my normal daytime hours.

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