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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings; Second Nurse Tests Positive for Ebola; Is America Prepared for Ebola?; Roots: Our Journeys Home; Gen. Dempsey: "Airstrikes are Working"
Aired October 15, 2014 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following breaking news, emergency trip. A second nurse has the Ebola virus. Right now, she is being taken from Dallas to a special hospital in Atlanta.
Travel fears. Even though officials says she shouldn't have done it, the infected woman took a weekend trip to Cleveland. She had a fever. What about the plane? What about the passengers and the people she visited?
Also in this hour, my family's powerful journey. Follow along as I trace my roots from Poland, where my grandparents died, to my childhood home in Buffalo, New York.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: And we're covering the rush of developments in two major breaking stories today. We have got these pictures in just a few moments ago as an ambulance rushed the new Ebola patient to a Dallas airport for a flight to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Amber Vinson, 29 years old, is the second nurse to become infected after treating the Ebola patient who died last week in Dallas.
Meanwhile, we have just heard from President Obama, who just wrapped up a Cabinet-level meeting on trying to stop Ebola in the United States. Also, in a CNN exclusive, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff shares his own worries about Ebola and today's other major breaking story, the war against ISIS.
Our correspondents and newsmakers, they are standing by to bring you all the late-breaking developments on these stories.
Let's begin with CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's got the latest in Dallas -- Ed.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are stunning descriptions of what the nurses inside the hospital here in Dallas were facing when they first started treating Thomas Eric Duncan back on September 25.
CDC officials say today they are focused on those early days as perhaps one of the areas where the health care workers might have been exposed and infected. And nurses union representatives nationally are saying that they are hearing from nurses inside the hospital who paint a grim picture of just how ill-prepared they were in terms of the protective gear they were wearing.
CDC officials are saying, Wolf, they were not all wearing the same standard fully protective gear, that at times their skin was exposed and that sort of thing, so serious questions about just what kind of -- how prepared these health care workers were to face these treacherous and obviously very ill conditions inside that treatment room.
So a lot of questions surrounding that. As you mentioned, Amber Vinson now in the process of being flown to Emory University in Atlanta. And one official close to the situation here today tells us, Wolf, that in hindsight, looking back at all of this, that Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient, perhaps should have been taken to Emory Hospital or another hospital that specializes in all of this from the very beginning -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That plane is now taking off, that small jet that's carrying the 29-year-old nurse, Amber Vinson, to Atlanta. Are they saying specifically, Ed, why they decided to fly her to Atlanta? Are they giving a specific reason? Obviously, they think she will get better treatment there.
LAVANDERA: We have reached out to the hospital to figure out exactly if this was a local decision made or if this is a CDC decision. We have not gotten clarification on all of that.
But, remember, there's also Nina Pham who is still here in the same area where Thomas Eric Duncan was being treated and obviously a very tense situation, especially here, Wolf, when you consider that hospital officials are really preparing everybody, saying the worst may not be over yet, that there may be other of these health care workers, other members of this team who in the coming days who may become infected as well.
BLITZER: I suspect they're sending her to Atlanta not only because she might get better care, but also the precautions for health care workers, doctors and nurses, in Atlanta might be better than what we saw over these last few days in Dallas.
Ed, stand by.
There's another very disturbing new twist in the Ebola story. The infected nurse took an airliner, a commercial flight from Dallas to Cleveland last week, then returned on Monday, when she already had a fever. That's setting off an urgent search for the passengers who were on the return flight, but even the flight from Dallas to Cleveland.
Our aviation correspondent, Rene Marsh, is joining us now. She's working the story. She's at Washington's Reagan National Airport.
What are you hearing, Rene?
RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the CDC, they have already started the process of contacting those passengers. They're interviewing them. They're arranging follow-up.
The goal here is being 100 percent certain that no one on board contracted that deadly disease.
MARSH (voice-over): The CDC is contacting all of the passengers who shared flights with 29-year-old Amber Vinson, the Dallas nurse now infected with Ebola. Vinson took Frontier Airline flights -- first from Dallas to Cleveland, and then back to Dallas. She didn't show symptoms at that time. But in a telephone briefing today, CDC Director Tom Frieden said she never should have stepped foot on a plane.
DR. TOM FRIEDEN, CDC DIRECTOR: Although she did not report any symptoms and she did not meet the fever threshold of 100. 4, she did report at that time that she took her temperature and found it to be 99. 5. So, by both of those criteria, she should not have been on that plane. MARSH: Vinson developed symptoms the day after her October 13th
flight to Dallas, raising the question, were any of the other 132 passengers at risk?
FRIEDEN: We are going and will always put in extra margins of safety and therefore, I will be reaching out to all of the passengers and crew of that flight.
MARSH: In a statement to CNN, Frontier Airlines says they responded immediately upon notification from the CDC by removing the aircraft from service. The airline says the plane was cleaned the night it landed and again today, but it is still in use.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Frontier aircraft -- Frontier Airlines aircraft was decontaminated twice at a remote location of the airport. That plane has since -- in about 30 minutes, the plane will be put back into service. There will be a scheduled flight to Denver using that aircraft.
MARSH: One public health expert says this case is another example of a flawed system.
LAWRENCE GOSTIN, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY LAW SCHOOL: What's staggering about this is that we've done so many tabletop exercises for novel pandemic flus and SARS and all of that and yet the first case of Ebola in real life, it doesn't work.
MARSH: Well, at this point, the question is, how did this happen?
We know the CDC has a do not board list, but that list is made up of people with known infectious diseases. This nurse did not fall under that category. Yes, she was self-monitoring, but she did not have this infectious disease as far as the CDC was concerned.
So I asked the CDC whose responsibility was it to ensure this woman did not get on a commercial airplane? I was told that there was no system in place that an individual would have stopped here, and there are only CDC guidelines warning against traveling on commercial airlines.
Wolf, we do know that, now this has happened, the CDC said today they will be working with state and local officials to ensure this doesn't happen again -- back to you.
BLITZER: Let's hope it doesn't. All right, Rene, thank you very much, Rene Marsh over at Reagan National Airport here in Washington.
Worries about Ebola forced President Obama to scrap his afternoon political schedule. The president just wrapped up a Cabinet-level meeting on how to make sure what happened in Dallas and is still happening in Dallas does not repeat itself anyplace else.
Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, and he's got more on this part of the story -- Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, you heard it just a few minutes ago. President Obama urged his administration to get aggressive, as he put it, in its response to the Ebola virus. That's an acknowledgment that so far it hasn't been tough enough.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Ebola is just the latest test of government competence for President Obama, one he vows his administration will pass.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are monitoring, supervising, overseeing in a much more aggressive way exactly what's taking place.
ACOSTA: But White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was peppered with questions about the government's performance, specifically whether the CDC dropped the ball.
JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's appropriate for you to describe the president as very concerned about this situation.
ACOSTA: And who is in charge? Is it the president's adviser Lisa Monaco, who was tapped to coordinate the response.
EARNEST: So she's not overseeing -- she's not overseeing the construction of Ebola transmission units in West Africa. ACOSTA (on camera): You seem to be reluctant to say who is in
charge of the federal response to Ebola.
EARNEST: Jim, I think that I'm reciting very clearly to you who specifically is responsible for which activities when it comes to this government's tenacious response to Ebola.
ACOSTA: Earlier this month, top administration officials maintained U.S. hospitals were well-prepared to care for Ebola patients.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every hospital in this country has the capability to isolate a patient.
ACOSTA: But that wasn't the case at the Dallas hospital that was treating Ebola victim Thomas Duncan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The nurses say there were no protocols.
ACOSTA: In response, the CDC director said special teams will supervise Ebola care at hospitals.
DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, CDC DIRECTOR: I wish we had put a team like this on the ground the day the patient, the first patient was diagnosed.
ACOSTA: But then the CDC shifted gears again, announcing that the latest patient to contract the virus, a nurse, will be transferred to the Ebola experts at Emory Hospital in Atlanta. HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell dodged when pressed on whether the administration had confidence in that Dallas hospital.
SYLVIA MATHEWS BURWELL, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary: We have added additional staff from the CDC.
QUESTION: With all due respect, Madam Secretary, you're not answering my question.
ACOSTA: Any further mishaps in the CDC's handling of Ebola could be added to the list of administration foul-ups. The president himself down played the possibility of Ebola surfacing in the U.S.
OBAMA: In the unlikely event that someone with Ebola does reach our shores, we have taken new measures so that we're prepared here at home.
ACOSTA: Now he maintains the White House is on top of it.
OBAMA: We have the public health infrastructure and systems and support that make an epidemic here highly unlikely. But, obviously, one case is too many.
ACOSTA: The president said he also wants CDC SWAT teams, as he called them, to respond to hospitals and to be deployed to hospitals that have Ebola patients.
And there was also a warning to the world, Wolf, that if Ebola is not stopped in West Africa, the president said it could spread globally. That sounded very, very ominous.
BLITZER: It certainly did. The whole world has to get involved and deal with it, the source in West Africa right now. Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Let's continue our analysis.
Joining us, two guests. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner is an assistant professor at Penn State University Department of Public Health Sciences. He's an expert on public health preparedness. Also joining us, the tropical medical specialist CNN medical analyst Dr. Xand van Tulleken.
Gentlemen, thanks very much for joining us
Dr. van Tulleken, the CDC director, Dr. Thomas Frieden, said that Amber Vinson, the 29-year-old nurse who flew from Cleveland back to Dallas with a low-grade fever, she had not yet met that threshold of, what, 100.4. She was flying with 99.5. Are they specific? Do they know for sure that that threshold is 100.4 as opposed to 99.5 fever?
DR. XAND VAN TULLEKEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: No, of course we don't.
What you're seeing is the fever is a manifestation of the body's response to an increase viral load. The fever is the first sign of you getting sick. It's a sign of generalized inflammation.
And what we can tell is a low fever is a low viral load. A higher fever is a higher viral load. The more symptoms you have, the more virus you have. So I think he's right to say the exposure on this plane was very, very low. If I was on that plane, I wouldn't be very worried about getting Ebola and I would certainly be confident to travel with Frontier Airlines on that plane now.
But the point we're seeing is when he says we have taken the utmost precautions, I mean, at the point she got on that plane, we already knew that Nina Pham was ill and we knew that all those 70 health care staff or 76 it is now were exposed.
She not only shouldn't have been getting on a plane, she should have been at home, isolated, getting daily tests. That's what is frightening here is, sure, the risk is not that high with the flight to Cleveland, but we're just seeing yet another instance of them dropping the ball. Basically, we should be learning lessons from Africa here.
The screening getting on airplanes, Sanjay Gupta has been really clear about this, the screening get on a plane in Africa and the questionnaire would have stopped Amber Vinson getting on that plane. And the protective gear that MSF, the Doctors Without Borders are using in Africa would have stopped those nurses catching it, so really an extraordinary lack of oversight from the CDC.
BLITZER: Let me be precise, Dr. van Tulleken. Do they start -- need to -- screening at all these airports?
VAN TULLEKEN: No, I think airport screening -- so the important thing about airport screening is screening before you get on airplanes.
At the moment, internal flights in America, we have had so few people exposed to Ebola that I think it's reasonable to restrict the flights of those people and not be screening internally. But what we're seeing is a basic lack of protocol and procedures.
In terms of screenings at airports coming into America, it's a very bad way of stop thing virus. The most important thing is the care in the hospitals using nurses as the front line, protecting them and making sure they protect everything else from spreading it, rather than in fact spreading it themselves.
VAN TULLEKEN: I'm sorry.
BLITZER: No, no, I just want Dr. Macgregor-Skinner to weigh in on this specific issue as well, the fact that she flew with slightly elevated fever, not the threshold that the CDC says would make her contagious. What is your analysis?
DR. GAVIN MACGREGOR-SKINNER, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY: Wolf, the CDC has guidelines and recommendations for conducting risk assessments of people, especially health care workers, that have had close contact or direct contact with Ebola patients.
So, one, who is conducting the risk assessment? When you conduct that risk assessment, you determine the appropriate public health actions based on the assessment. One of the public health actions is controlled movement.
And within the CDC guidelines, controlled movement is within 21 days after having close correct, direct contact with Ebola, you need to contact the public health authority if you plan to contact -- the CDC also says that you should not take commercial transport, planes, buses, trains, or public transport.
Now, where is the communication plan right now? I haven't seen it. This is from the CDC guidelines.
BLITZER: Dr. van Tulleken, the fact that two medical workers, these two nurses were infected at the same hospital, dealing with the same patient who unfortunately has passed away, what does that tell you about the protocols?
VAN TULLEKEN: I think it's tell us two things.
Firstly, it suggests that the protocols themselves are bad even if they are followed perfectly. Certainly, when you look at Tom Frieden kitting up in Liberia to go into a ward there of Doctors Without Borders, he does not follow CDC protocols.
In the videos, you can see donning MSF protocol or WHO protocol gear. We think the basic protocols are probably inadequate. But the other thing is people aren't taught how to follow the protocols. And they aren't taught what to do when they go wrong. So I think we're really seeing both the protocols and the way they're being enforced are not correct.
BLITZER: Dr. Macgregor-Skinner, should we be bracing for more health care workers, nurses, doctors in Dallas to come down with Ebola?
MACGREGOR-SKINNER: I don't know, Wolf, because we need go back to Dallas and conduct a risk assessment and see what actually happened and talk to the staff.
The local nurses and physicians and the hospital staff at that Dallas hospital, they must be so scared at the moment. They need support, they need counseling. They need people to come and listen to them and hear their story and evaluate the risk, so we can give them the appropriate public health actions.
But I'm really concerned, because we have been dealing with Ebola since 1976. The protocols are correct. But, unfortunately, the protocols, if you go to Google, put in CDC Ebola, go to the CDC Ebola site, the protocols on the CDC Ebola site are based on a risk assessment, looking at symptoms, identifying the hazards, identifying what you need to protect are not correct and it needs to be changed.
BLITZER: I want both of you doctors, please stand by. We have a lot more to discuss. The breaking news on Ebola, stand by for that.
Also in a CNN exclusive, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff talks about his own fears about Ebola and what he calls the winning strategy for the war against ISIS.
And later this hour, my emotional, very powerful journey in search of my own family's roots.
BLITZER: Giving the Pentagon to call up reservists to deploy to West Africa, if necessary. Up to 4,000 U.S. troops may be sent there to set up facilities for health care workers and other details.
In an exclusive interview with CNN's Kyra Phillips, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, talked about his own Ebola fears.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Are you, General Dempsey, worried about Ebola here in the U.S.?
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: I have been worried about Ebola globally for about 90 days, and I have had some on my staff that were probably a little more worried than I was even a few weeks or months before that.
DEMPSEY: I'm worried about it because we know so little about it. You will hear different people describe whether it could become airborne.
If you bring two -- you know, two doctors who happen have that specialty into a room, one will say, no, there's no way it will ever become airborne, but it could mutate so it would be harder to discover.
It actually disguises itself in the body, which is what makes it so dangerous and has that incubation period of about 21 days. Another doctor will say, well, if it continues to mutate at the rate it's mutating, and if we go from 20,000 infected to 100,000, the population might allow it the opportunity to mutate and become airborne.
And then it will be an extraordinarily serious problem. I don't know who is right. I don't want to take that chance. So, I'm taking it very seriously.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Let's bring back our guests, Dr. Gavin Macgregor- Skinner, an assistant professor at Penn State University's Department of Public Health Sciences. He's an expert on public health preparedness. Also joining us, the tropical medicine specialist, our CNN medical analyst Dr. Xand van Tulleken.
How worried should we be, Dr. van Tulleken, about this virus evolving, if you will, and becoming airborne contagious as opposed strictly by bodily fluids?
VAN TULLEKEN: Well, I think the general's right that we don't really know.
But it does seem like there has been no virus in the history of the study of virology that has ever changed its mode of transmission and gone from being transmitted from bodily fluids to becoming airborne.
That said, what I really like about what General Dempsey is saying is he is not taking any risks. He's a man who wants to attack the possibility of there being an airborne disease before it happens. I think what is very reasonable to say is, even if you don't think there's any chance of Ebola getting airborne at all, it's definitely true that within our own lifetime we're going to see pandemics of airborne diseases.
We have seen them with -- we have seen them with other kinds of flu. And So I think having a system in place that can cope with airborne disease will definitely strengthen our ability to approach Ebola.
BLITZER: What is your analysis, Dr. Macgregor-Skinner, on this specific question?
MACGREGOR-SKINNER: Wolf, right now, this is a public health emergency. We need to evaluate our capabilities and we need to develop operational plans.
At the moment, it's not airborne. We can start developing operational plans in case it does become airborne. But I'm not even seeing operational plans that have been developed right now. We don't have a national communications strategy. We don't have a national a training program.
We have a CDC that is handing out guidance and recommendation documents as paper-based documents. We don't no video, we aren't using Web-based training, we aren't using lessons learned from Dallas and Nebraska and Emory.
So again, we're not being able to manage the situation. We can't do the implementation, and again we have no coordination.
BLITZER: All right, Dr. Macgregor-Skinner, please stand by. Dr. van Tulleken, I want you to stand by as well.
Joining me now is the mayor of Dallas, Mike Rawlings.
Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.
A lot of people are wondering, Amber Vinson, this 29-year-old nurse, she got on this flight and she flew out of Dallas, went to Cleveland, came back, even though she had an elevated fever. What happened here?
MIKE RAWLINGS, MAYOR OF DALLAS, TEXAS: Well, I don't know. I'm asking a lot of questions today.
There's no way she should have been on that flight. She was being monitored here in Dallas, and if she was monitored correctly, she would have gotten into the hospital, I think, earlier than going on that flight.
BLITZER: Should everyone who got into contact, especially health care workers, and there are about 70 of them at the Dallas hospital who were in some sort of contact with Mr. Duncan, should all of them be under strict quarantine right now, as opposed to sort of personal responsibility, not moving around?
RAWLINGS: I don't know if all 70 should, but I think a group of individuals should be in some sort of isolation, away for their families, being close to the medical facilities.
That's what I have asked for from the state. That's what I'm asking from the CDC to examine that. This is, as you know, a serious issue that we're taking very seriously. There's no way you can get this disease unless you come in contact with an individual. But we want to make sure that we are nipping this now with those health care workers.
BLITZER: What have you been told, Mayor, about Amber Vinson's, the second nurse, about her condition?
RAWLINGS: That she's doing OK, but she was a little more progressed than Ms. Pham, and we are just hoping -- these folks are heroes. They are heroes for us, and we're going to do everything we can for their support.
BLITZER: As of this moment, Mayor, have you been told that there are other Ebola cases potentially out there?
RAWLINGS: Well, look, I believe that there's a chance that we're going to get another one. I'm not happy about that. I'm not happy about the one we got today.
We have all got to do a better job, and this city expects more of its officials and its government. And we're going to work hard to even if we get somebody else that we're going to close this down sooner vs. later.
BLITZER: Is there somebody else who is already being tested potentially? We hope that no one else comes down with Ebola, but is there someone who is suspicious at this point?
RAWLINGS: Not at this point, but the state is always looking at different individuals and assessing those things. So it wouldn't surprise me if I got another call at 1:00 in the morning, like I did this last morning, and say we have got another case.
We have got to be prepared for that. And that's why we have to have a sense of urgency about everything we do. And that's why we have got to stick to a very clear process and discipline, an operational way to deal with this in the city of Dallas.
BLITZER: Do you know, Mayor, have you been told how Nina Pham and Amber Vinson, these two nurses, one 26 years old, one 29 years old, contracted Ebola?
RAWLINGS: I have not. And we will find out at some point, but -- or we may not. It may be so difficult to find out, it may never come. The key is what we're doing going forward today.
We believe protocol is different right now at Presbyterian Hospital than it was before. But this isn't just about Presbyterian Hospital. This is about everybody on the team, and them doing their part in that.
BLITZER: What does it say to you, Mayor, that this woman, Amber Vinson, was airlifted today? She's on a jet right now flying from Dallas to Atlanta. What does it say about the vote of confidence, shall we say, about what's going on at that Dallas hospital?
RAWLINGS: I think it's the right decision. I really do.
This is one of the decisions that I asked for, and I'm so pleased that folks decided to do this. It allows Presbyterian to breathe a little bit. It allows us to start to deal with those hospital workers that are part of the family. It's probably the best thing for Ms. -- for this patient, and at some point, maybe Ms. Pham moves as well. We're trying to figure that out. We have got to deal with all the resources. We can't be parochial about this. If there's a better solution, we need to take it.
BLITZER: So, you think there's a possibility Nina Pham also will be airlifted?
RAWLINGS: There's a possibility of that. And that's something that we're discussing and we will see if it happens.
BLITZER: Let me read to you a statement put out by the National Nurses United Union. It's a pretty tough statement. The suits they were given, -- we're talking about the healthcare professionals, the nurses -- still exposed their necks, the part closest to their face and mouth. Nurses had to use medical tape that in not impermeable and has permeable seams to wrap around their necks in order to protect themselves and had to put on the tape and take it off on their own.
That sounds awful to me. What was going on? I know you've looked into this, Mayor, because that sounds so, so elementary, shall we say, and so dangerous.
RAWLINGS: You know, what's amazing about this is we were kind of fighting a two-front war on this. The context of Eric Duncan and outside of the hospital, we thought that was going to be the more difficult one, 48 contacts. We've tracked them all. We've got their family in isolation, and knock on wood, they're doing very well.
I thought the layup was really inside the hospital, and so it's very disappointing what has happened. Again, we're going to -- we'll do a postmortem on this and understand exactly why different people did different things, but you would hope that, as a medical community in the nation, we would do better by these patients.
But they are -- but these are the ladies that are -- that helped for Mr. Duncan, so it's not their fault, and I'm cheering them on.
BLITZER: Mayor, good luck to you; good luck to everyone in Dallas. This is obviously a story that's resonating an enormous amount of fear out there, not only in your community; all over the country, indeed all over the world.
Mike Rawlings is the mayor of Dallas, Texas.
Mayor, thank you very much.
RAWLINGS: Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, as CNN journalists explore their roots, you're about to see my own very emotional journey to trace my family's history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I feel like I've been robbed of an experience of having grandparents. Six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Welcome back. As part of CNN's weeklong series "Roots," I'm about to take you on a very personal and very powerful journey home, a journey where I learn more about my family's history.
BLITZER (voice-over): It's Saturday in Buffalo, New York. My hometown.
(on camera): Hi. How are you?
(voice-over): And these guys, well, they're fans of FC Buffalo Blitzers. That's a soccer team that somehow was named after me. Something I find both flattering and a little embarrassing.
CNN has asked me to come here to trace my roots, a task I find daunting. I grew up here in the 1950s and '60s with my sister and parents. A lot has changed since then. My dad passed away in 2002, and my mom, she's 92 years old and she now lives in Florida.
But some things here never change. Like the Anchor Bar, the birthplace of the buffalo chicken wing.
(on camera): Brings back my memories from my youth. Two weeks ago, I was on the Israel-Gaza border. Now I'm eating buffalo chicken wings.
(voice-over): My journey to learn about my family's history has been months in the making, delayed in part because of this: the war between Israel and Hamas. I'm in Jerusalem reporting for nearly a month. But a friend suggests I take some time to visit Israel's National Holocaust Museum, Yadvashem.
(on camera): Let's go to my father's side first. Last name is Blitzer.
(voice-over): I of course knew my grandparents died during the Holocaust, but I wanted to learn more.
(on camera): Circumstances of death, it says that (INAUDIBLE) concentration camp. Alager, which means camp. Auschwitz.
(voice-over): My dad, David Blitzer, wrote a testimony for the museum, detailing what he knew about the fate of his family in Poland during World War II.
(on camera): You know, I didn't know until I came here to Israel this week that on my father's side, my grandparents died, were killed at Auschwitz.
I feel like I've been robbed of an experience of having grandparents. Six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, and I saw the documentation there, place of extermination if you will -- whatever it was called -- Auschwitz, that it really hit me. And I knew that's where I wanted to go.
It says "harbeit macht frei."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Work will set you free." Meaning that it was a place for working, which was not...
BLITZER: It was for slave laborers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It was this kind of camp, but work was an instrument of extermination for residents here.
BLITZER (voice-over): It's one thing to learn about the Holocaust in school or from books. But to see these places firsthand, some untouched since the war, can be overwhelming.
(on camera): Most of the Jews who were brought here came by cattle car.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then begun selection.
BLITZER: Who lives and who dies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Exactly.
BLITZER: In my particular case, my grandparents died here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Probably they were driven right away to the gas chamber. People who walked in, they really believed they were in the shower room.
BLITZER: So they thought maybe they were going to get a shower. But instead...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was the gas chamber.
BLITZER (voice-over): While many Jews were brought to Auschwitz from far away, my dad's family was unique. He grew up in a neighborhood in the town of Auschwitz, which is also called Hasvenshiman (ph) in Polish and Auschwitzem (ph) in Yiddish.
ARTHUR SCHINDLER, LOCAL HISTORIAN: The great synagogue and all Jewish...
BLITZER: Arthur Schindler, a local historian, agreed to help me find my dad's childhood home.
SCHINDLER: We have some school records. You see, this is the information about Rachael Blitzer. Born...
BLITZER (on camera): Rachael. That's my aunt.
SCHINDLER: And this is address. Legionow 26...
BLITZER: Now we've looked over here. There's no Legionow 26... SCHINDLER: No. Many houses in this whole area were taken down
by the Nazis.
BLITZER: They were destroyed.
(voice-over): Like much of my journey so far, I'm struggling to find remnants of my father's life.
(on camera): Did this house exist before World War II?
Do you remember by any chance a family named Blitzer?
(voice-over): None of the neighbors remember the Blitzers or the house in which they once lived. But I did find a place where my family once stood. The town square.
(on camera): In the testimony that my father provided, he has three sisters; only one sister survived. Rachael survived the war. But two of his other sisters, Freya and Hinda, when the Nazis came in, they were brought to this area. Two sisters, they were killed. They were young girls.
(voice-over): It's pretty much the same story on my mother's side. She survived, but her parents died during the Holocaust.
(on camera): I'm named after my grandfather, Wolf Zilberfuden (ph). People always ask me. It's the most frequently asked question I get, is Wolf your real name? And I say yes, it's my real name. I was named after my maternal grandfather.
(voice-over): That's my cousin, Peppy Dotan (ph). We grew up together in Buffalo. She's here to help me find my mother's roots.
(on camera): We're at the Zilberfuden (ph) residence. What number was it?
PEPPY DOTAN (ph), WOLF'S COUSIN: Number 12.
BLITZER: Whatever house they had is gone.
DOTAN (ph): Yes, it's closed.
BLITZER (voice-over): Together, we found what's left of my grandfather's old factory that produced clay pipes. Not far from that factory was the slave labor camp where my mother, her sister Paula, and two brothers, Mike and Urich, worked.
This was the land where the Skarzysko labor camp, Camp A, was.
DOTAN (ph): In this camp, 24,000 Jews came in for labor. Almost 18,000 died here. There was no crematorium here, but they simply burned the bodies, and they -- we're told that they buried the ashes here in this place. So it's conceivable that our grandparents -- their ashes are here.
BLITZER (on camera): We have no idea. DOTAN (ph): We have no idea, no.
BLITZER: When you look at my mom now, she's 92 years old. You wouldn't realize how courageous she was when she was liberated in 1945 from the slave labor camp. They told all the Jewish workers, you're going to be marching on this death march. My mother knew that if they were on this forced death march, they would die.
DOTAN (ph): This remarkable woman took her siblings and hid in the basement of the factory, and they stayed there for a few days until they were finally liberated by the Russians.
BLITZER: Yes. Pretty amazing story.
DOTAN (ph): Pretty amazing. Amazing woman.
BLITZER: To this day, I'm very aware of the really courageous moves that my mom made. She's obviously a very wonderful woman.
(voice-over): Before we leave Poland, we visit the only Jewish cemetery still left in the town of Auschwitz, and I see a tombstone that says Blitzer. I don't know if this woman was related to me. But I do what my father would have wanted. I say the special prayer for the dead, the Kaddish.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
So after the war, after my parents were liberated -- my mother by the Russians, the Russian troops; my dad by the French troops -- they did what most Holocaust survivors immediately did once they were strong enough. They went and started looking for family members who may have survived. And so, they were on a train, and all of a sudden, they saw each other. Their eyes met, and they fell in love.
Within a few months, they were married by an American military chaplain, a rabbi. My dad found work in Augsburg, Germany, where my sister and I were born.
My dad always said, in those days you didn't know what was going to be happening a week from now, two weeks. After what they went through during the war, they said, you know, you had to grab life when you could.
When my dad was visiting nearby Munich one day, he saw a long line, so he got in it. It turned out it was a line for visas to America, the result of a law signed by President Truman to bring Holocaust survivors and displaced persons to the United States. A few months later, we were moving to upstate New York.
When he came to Buffalo, people helped him get that job. They said oh, you have a job at Bethlehem Steel, you'll make some money, and they thought it was pretty cool. But it was awful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's ungodly hot, it's going constantly, and it will not stop if you're injured.
BLITZER: My dad hated the steel mill and left after a year or so. He and my uncle, Sam Friedman, decided to open a small deli.
1434 Hurdle Avenue. It used to be Blitzer's Delicatessen. Now it's Buffalo Airbrush Tan.
I'm Wolf. Jessica, nice to meet you. So, this was the deli. This was -- I used to pack eggs here. I would come in on Sunday mornings and pack eggs.
So I would walk in over here -- all right, guys, keep going. Work. We're working. Yes, so this is where we used to pack the eggs.
A lot of memories. Blitzer's Deli. Hard to believe.
My dad didn't like the deli business much, either. Then one day, he was talking to friends he knew from the concentration camp. They were buying land --
Developed all these homes.
-- and building homes for GIs returning from the war. My dad decided to give it a try.
My dad actually built this house. This is one of the first houses he built when he became a builder. That's my house. Somebody is living there.
It turns out my father had a knack for homebuilding. And with a lot of hard work became a successful developer.
I went to school here. This is where they taught me to be a journalist.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Awesome! Really?
BLTIZER: This is my roots. That's right, exactly what it is.
That's me, Wolf Blitzer. Wolf I. Blitzer. Student Council, secondary representative, concert band, dance band, debate club, German club, Humanities club, Chem torial (ph), advertising staff, marching band, National Honors Society, football JV. That was me.
BLITZER: So after months of following my family tree, I'm right back where I started, my hometown.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want you everyday!
BLITZER: It's a place where I grew up, where I went to college. Where I met my wife, Lynn. And where, well, I also learned a lot about eating good food.
How can we not have -- we've got to have Anderson's custard -- frozen custard. We're here, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wolf, where are we going right now? BLITZER: Ted's. What do you want on it? Mustard, relish,
ketchup, pickles. The cool people say, everything you got.
UNIDENFIEID MALE: Would you like any French Fries or onion rings?
BLITZER: Yes, we would. We'd like all of the above.
You know, it's amazing, my parents, after all they went through, the losses that they went through, I never sensed a vindictiveness. You know, they wanted to move on.
My dad, when he died in 2002, he was 82 years old. He was always upbeat. Whenever he would see me on television and my mother would see me on television, they would always say the same thing, you know, this is the revenge. This is the revenge to Hitler and the Nazis.
I'm very proud of the new roots my parents planted here in America. Those roots have grown. And during this visit back to Buffalo and indeed throughout my life, I realized a lesson I learned from my parents. Like them, I try to grab life wherever I can.
BLITZER: I love Buffalo. As you saw, this was a really powerful experience for me, discovering more of my roots. I was a bit up comfortable when CNN asked me to undertake this project. I really didn't know how I would react, but I'm obviously very glad that they asked and I did it.
I want to thank my wonderful team of producers who helped make it possible. Linda Roth, who went with me to Israel and Poland, David Gracie (ph), who went with me back to Buffalo. Jay Schiller (ph), David Gallis (ph), my video editor, Jack Alsher (ph), my photojournalist, who helped me, Jeremy Morehead (ph), Rod Griola (ph), Epi Needham (ph), Rich Brookes (ph), they were all amazing, certainly among the best in the business.
Finally, I again want to thank my parents who struggled. They survived. They wound up building a wonderful new life in the United States. I'm so grateful for what they did for me, for my entire family, and indeed for so many others.
My mom is watching, I love you mom. I want to thank her for everything. I would like to think that my dad, by the way, is watching as well.
We'll be right back with more news.
BLITZER: Powerful explosions shake the Syrian border town of Kobani as United States steps its airstrikes on ISIS targets and all 18 launched there in an urgent effort to try to keep the jihadists from seizing the Kurdish city.
There were also five strikes in Iraq, but security sources say ISIS is still advancing and now surrounded an Iraqi military base.
CNN's Kyra Phillips spoke exclusively with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey. Kyra is with us in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Tell us some of the headlines. What happened?
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dempsey still insists that Baghdad is not going to fall to ISIS, that they're going to keep control of ISIS. And he says the coalition has a winning strategy for the long term, though he does admit it is hard to measure the progress and that airstrikes alone will not defeat ISIS.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: Are airstrikes working?
GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Airstrikes are working, but they're not -- as they described, they are necessary but insufficient. They are working. They have changed -- they have forced ISIL to change the way it is moving. We've affected their supply bases. We've interdicted some of their supply convoys.
PHILLIPS: But there will need to be more?
DEMPSEY: Absolutely. Yes, airstrikes have never been the answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: Well, also, Wolf, you and I have been talking about these Apache helicopters that were brought in, they can do low level flying. They put eyes on the target. And Dempsey told that that helped a lot. They were able to get these, quote-unquote, "tactical glimpses" of what ISIS is capable of.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: Apache helicopters have joined the fight against ISIS. So, at what point do you say to the president -- sir, I now recommend U.S. combat forces on the ground?
DEMPSEY: Yes, well, I said a moment ago, war is discovery. And I haven't discovered that point yet.
I can't foresee a circumstance where I would see the introduction of units of U.S. combat forces taking control of swaths of Iraq. But I could foresee a case where the advisors -- we have 12 advisory teams there and yesterday we got a significant commitment from other coalition members to add advisory teams. We're going to set up three training bases where we can, you know, give this offensive capability to the Iraqi security forces. I can foresee that leading to some point on the ground where I would say, Mr. President, we really need a forward air controller in this particular mission for this purpose. But I can't foresee a case where we should re introduce large
ground combat force news Iraq. But again, war is discovery. ISIL is a national security threat. If we get to that point, I'll make the recommendation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PHILLIPS: So once again, not off the table, Wolf, U.S. combat forces in country.
And something else interesting, he got frustrated and I could feel an intensity when I asked him about the Iraqi government and he said that the years of coaching, teaching, mentoring were all wasted by the government of Iraq and that government is to blame for creating an environment in which ISIL could flourish.
BLITZER: Did he explain how ISIS could progress as quickly as they did? Because seemingly out of nowhere, they've got almost half of Iraq, half of Syria, they got the second largest city in Iraq, Mosul, nearly 2 million, they stole all of this U.S. military equipment, Abrams battle tanks, armored personnel carriers from Iraqi camps who abandoned their post.
PHILLIPS: I drill down on that, and I said, I keep hearing ISIS was underestimated. The president said that. I said, did the White House underestimate, the Pentagon, the intelligence community? He told me that for months in their counterterrorism meetings, they've been talking about ISIS. They knew there was a risk. Back in February, an intelligence officer said ISIS is going to reenter Iraq.
So, he kept -- he said they have been keeping eyes on that threat, however, he blames the Iraqi military that they were not willing to stand up and fight ISIS.
BLITZER: Kyra, good work. Thanks very much for coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. Kyra Phillips joining us.
That's it for me. Remember, you can always follow us on Twitter. Go ahead and tweet me @WolfBlitzer. Tweet the show @CNNSitroom. Please be sure to join us again tomorrow on THE SITUATION ROOM. When you can watch us live, or DVR the show so you won't miss a moment. Thanks for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.