WASHINGTON (Apr. 15)
President Reagan might change his mind and visit the site of a Nazi concentration camp when he goes to West Germany next month, the White House indicated today. (Related stories P. 1 and P.3.)
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan has asked Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver to return to Germany to “look at other opportunities” for a Presidential visit. Deaver, who is leaving the White House in May, was responsible for planning Reagan’s visit to West Germany.
Speakes conceded that the move was in response to criticism from Jewish groups and veterans organizations over the weekend about the President’s plan to lay a wreath at the Bitburg German military cemetery. (See April 15 Bulletin.)
However, Speakes said there had been less than 100 calls to the White House complaining about the planned visit to the cemetery for German soldiers who fought U.S. and Allied troops in World War II.
REAGAN WILL VISIT THE CEMETERY
But Speakes stressed that Reagan “does intend” to visit the cemetery. He said the President received a letter from West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl today in which Kohl emphasized the importance for Reagan to “continue with his plans to visit” the Bitburg cemetery as part of the reconciliation of former enemies.
Reagan sees the ceremony at the cemetery where “young Germans” are buried as an “opportunity to demonstrate 40 years of peace in Europe” and a reconciliation that the President wishes to make the theme of his visit observing the 40th anniversary of VE Day, according to Speakes.
At a press conference on March 21, Reagan said he had rejected a proposal to visit the site of the Dachau concentration camp because he wants to mark the anniversary as a celebration and not use it for “reawakening the memories” of the war.
When Speakes suggested today that if “logistics” permit, a visit to a concentration camp site might be one of the proposals, he was asked what has changed the President’s views. He replied, “things have happened” since then. He added, “It was fair to say,” that by this he meant the criticism first of Jewish groups when Reagan said he would not visit Dachau and then of Jewish groups and veterans organizations to the planned trip to the cemetery.
Bitburg was the staging area for Wehrmacht tanks used against the U.S. and its allies in the Battle of the Bulge in December, 1944. Speakes would not comment on reports that among the German dead in the cemetery are members of the Waffen SS. This group was responsible for the massacre of 115 American prisoners of war during the Battle of the Bulge.