NEW YORK (Apr. 16)
Mayor Edward Koch has retreated from his statement last week that he did not object to President Reagan’s planned visit to a German military cemetery. Speaking at City Hall ceremonies yesterday to launch Jewish Heritage Week here, Koch said his approval had assumed the cemetery was only for the German army, and did not include SS members.
“It would be an outrage for the President to go to a cemetery where members of the SS are buried,” he said. “The SS was Hitler’s first line for destroying Jews.”
Koch made his remarks in response to author Elie Wiesel, one of two recipients of this year’s Sam Levenson Memorial Awards. In accepting his award, Wiesel had said that part of Jewish heritage was “speaking truth to power” in the tradition of the Prophets.
Wiesel, who is chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, said that in that spirit he was telling his friend, the mayor that he was sure that Koch did not have all the facts when he made his statement of approval of Reagan’s visit.
Wiesel said the cemetery was not just for military but was “filled with tombstones of SS men. These same SS killed American war prisoners who had their hands tied behind their backs,” he said. “The SS was declared criminal in Nuremberg by international law, and the President ought not to pay them homage by visiting their graves.”
In addition to Wiesel, a Levenson Award was presented to Father Bruce Ritter, a Franciscan priest who is founder and president of Covenant House, an international child care agency that operates short-term crisis centers in New York City.
The Levenson Awards are presented annually to an outstanding Jewish and non-Jewish citizen who emulates the striving for goodwill and concern for others that was characteristic of the late Sam Levenson, New York State Attorney General Robert Abrams, chairman of the Jewish Heritage Week, said. Comedian Alan King, last year’s award winner, made the award presentation to Wiesel and Ritter.
Other participants in the ceremonies included City Council President Carol Bellamy, who read a City Council proclamation, and New York State Senator Donald Halperin (D. Bklyn), who read a New York State Senate resolution declaring the week of April 21-28 as Jewish Heritage Week.