DRESDEN, Germany (CNN) – President Barack Obama spoke emotionally Friday about his great-uncle's role in liberating the German concentration camp at Buchenwald, noting that "it was a memory burned in him for quite some time."
Obama told reporters that as a young boy he learned about the life of his great-uncle, Charles Payne, who had a "very difficult time re-adjusting to civilian life" after his time as an American soldier in the 89th Infantry Division. That division helped liberate the Ohrdruf forced labor camp, a subdivision of Buchenwald, which Obama will visit for the first time on Friday afternoon.
At a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel earlier on Friday, Obama said he chose to tour Buchenwald because "this one has a personal connection to me." He noted his great-uncle, who is his grandmother's brother, was in "shock" for some time over what he saw at the camp as a young soldier.
Obama said he wants to "reflect on this difficult history" on his visit because it is a reminder of the "dangers when peoples are in conflict and not acknowledging a common humanity."
But Obama stressed that he also wants to "celebrate how out of tragedy you now have a unified Europe," and he wants to highlight the power of "reconciliation, forgiveness and hope."
White House aides said Obama's great-uncle will not be on the tour of Buchenwald, but will be joining the president for Saturday's ceremony in Normandy, France, celebrating the 65th anniversary of D-Day.