About 300 Holocaust survivors, most in their 90s, are expected to attend the ceremony, which takes place at the concentration camp in Poland where more than 1.1 million people were killed.
The preliminary list of world leaders set to attend the ceremony includes: France’s president François Hollande, Germany’s president Joachim Gauck and Austria’s president Heinz Fischer. Belgium’s King Philippe, the Netherland’s King Willem-Alexander and Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik also plan to attend.
Barack Obama was scheduled to be in India during the ceremony, but made a last-minute adjustment after the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He and first lady Michelle Obama are now scheduled to visit Riyadh on Tuesday, where he will meet with the new monarch, King Salman.
Lee Zeldin of New York, the only Jewish Republican in Congress, told the Guardian that the president’s attendance at the Auschwitz ceremony would send a strong message about the US commitment to rooting out antisemitism, especially in light of the recent attacks in Paris.
“There are these opportunities the president has unfortunately not been seizing upon to show the rest of the world just how strongly America stands committed to the cause of freedom and liberty, and a never-ending commitment towards or everything that is right and just,” said Zeldin. “Part of having a stronger, more-consistent foreign policy that improves our relationship with allies includes seizing upon these moments to lead and be present.”
This decision comes after the White House was criticised for not sending Obama or other high-ranking administration officials to Paris for the Charlie Hebdo unity rally which drew a host of foreign leaders.
The White House issued a rare apology for the incident, saying that Obama had not been consulted on the matter. “I think it’s fair to say that we should have sent someone with a higher profile to be there,” White House spokesperson Josh Earnest told reporters.
Though the White House has expressed regret, there has been no indication that they intended to send anyone above Lew to the Auschwitz liberation ceremony. For the 60th anniversary, then-vice president Dick Cheney was sent.
Russia president Vladimir Putin will also not be attending the ceremony due to his strained relations with other European leaders over the Ukraine conflict.