NEW YORK (Apr. 14)
President Reagan’s planned visit to a German military cemetery during his trip to West Germany next month was assailed over the weekend by representatives of American Jewish organizations.
The representatives, in denouncing the decision to visit the Bitberg cemetery where some 1,800 German soldiers who died during the Battle of the Bulge and later battles are buried, also noted Reagan’s refusal to pay homage to the victims of the Holocaust by visiting the site of the Dachau concentration camp.
Joining the chorus of protests against the visit to Bitberg was the American Legion which noted the White House’s assertion that a visit to lay a wreath at Bitberg would aid in the reconciliation of the German and American people 40 years after the conclusion of World War II.
“Honoring German war dead while ignoring the thousands of Allied war dead who fought there and the millions of European Jews who were victims of the Third Reich has nothing to do with reconciliation,” the American Legion said. “The allies of World War II did not fight for world conquest. The Germans of that era did.”
VISIT ‘GOES BEYOND INSENSITIVITY’
Kenneth Bialkin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said the President’s planned visit, announced Friday in Santa Barbara, “goes beyond insensitivity and becomes deeply offensive. The President’s action becomes even more incomprehensible in light of his refual to pay his respects at Dachau.”
In urging that the President “reconsider this ill-advised decision,” Bialkin said: “A new beginning in our relations with the new Germany is a laudible goal. But when the first step of that new beginning is taken in a way that diminishes Hitler’s victims … the result is a deep insult to the soul of remembrance.” Daniel Thursz, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, said the President’s “willingness to visit a German military cemetery shocks us, precisely because it will reopen old woundsand in a way that will stir the bitterest resentment, not just among Jews but among former American soldiers and the soldiers of our allies and the families of the victims who fell to Nazi Germany’s madness.”
Rabbi Marvin Hier, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said, “It is simply inconceivable that there can be any commemoration of the defeat of Nazi Germany without focusing on the main agenda of Nazism: The ‘final solution’ of the Jewish people and murder of many other innocent victims. If the President of the United States can visit a German cemetery, he certainly can visit Dachau or Bergen-Belsen.”
Nathan Perlmutter, director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said, “Visiting the gravesite of one’s former enemies is an act of grace. Doing so while by-passing the gravesites of the victims of that enemy is insensitive. The President has shown his intuitive compassion on many occasions … It is plain that in addition to this newest offense to the victims of Nazism, the President himself has been the victim of awful advice.”
‘AN INCREDIBLE ACT OF CALLOUSNESS’
Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, called the President’s decision “an incredible act of callousness. The President wants to symbolize reconciliation with the new Germany, a worthy goal. But that neither requires nor is enhanced by a decision that insults the men who gave their lives in the war against Nazi tyranny, and that seeks to bury the memory of Nazism by pretending it never happened.”
Menachem Rosensaft, founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said, “It is a calculated, deliberate insult to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust for President Reagan to pay homage to German soldiers, soldiers who wore the swastika on their uniforms and who died fighting to prevent the allied forces from liberating the Nazi death camps, while at the same time refusing to visit the site of the Dachau concentration camp.”
In an unusually strong statement, Rosensaft, who was born in the displaced persons camp of Bergen-Belsen in Germany, said “By his actions, President Reagan is demonstrating that he has no concern whatsoever for the remembrance of the Holocaust. He is violating every principle of decency and is aligning himself completely with all those who seek to forget or even deny the Holocaust. President Reagan’s total lack of sensitivity shocks the conscience.”
Benjamin Meed, president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said, “We are extemely saddened and bewildered” by the planned visit to Bitberg, and urged the President to reconsider “in the name of Holocaust survivors, their family and friends.”