WASHINGTON (Apr. 16)
President Reagan will visit the site of a Nazi concentration camp when he goes to Germany in May, White House Chief of Staff Donald Regan told a delegation of Jewish leaders today. Kenneth Bialkin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, told reporters after the White House meeting that the decision was welcome and that Regan confirmed the President’s deep appreciation of the meaning of the Holocaust.
But Elie Wiesel, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, said that Reagan cannot “balance” his planned visit to the Bitburg military cemetery where soldiers who fought for Nazi Germany, including members of the SS, are buried, with a visit to a concentration camp site.
Wiesel said either homage is paid to the victims of the Holocaust or “we do something other.” He said it is “inconceivable” that the President would lay a wreath where SS members are buried even if their “tombs are among others.”
But as he said at a meeting of the Holocaust Council in New York yesterday, Wiesel seemed to shift the blame from the President, saying that Reagan was “Ill-advised” by others. Wiesel also rejected refusing the Congressional Gold Medal which he is scheduled to receive from Reagan on Friday.
Jewish groups had been angered after Reagan’s statement at a press conference March 21 that he had rejected a proposal to visit the site of the Dachau concentration camp because he wants to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II as a reconciliation of former enemies and not a “reawakening the memories” of the war. Criticism grew sharper with veteran groups joining in late last week when it was announced the President would lay a wreath at the German military cemetery.
The White House announced yesterday that Regan had sent Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver and William Henkel, director of Presidential Advance, back to Germany to inspect sites that could be added to the President’s itinerary. At the same time it was stressed that the President intends to go through with his visit to the cemetery and had received a letter from West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl urging him to do so.
SHULTZ DEFENDS REAGAN’S OBJECTIVES
Meanwhile, Secretary of State George Shultz defended today the President’s objectives in his trip to Germany as a means not to forget the Holocaust but to demonstrate that U.S. believes that the values and government that has developed in West Germany in the last 40 years will prevent the “horror” of the Holocaust from happening again.
Answering a question after a luncheon speech to the National Press Club, Shultz said Reagan’s “objective is to say, here we are on this 40th anniversary and we know it’s the anniversary of a military victory. We know that during the war an awful lot of people were killed and insofar as Jews residing in Germany were concerned, they were subjected to an ultimate harror for which there is no excuse. It is almost impossible to imagine it. But we shouldn’t forget it.”
But Shultz said the President also wants “to say that we should think of this time, the last 40 years and the time ahead of us, as a time when a new beginning was made, a beginning in Germany, at least in the Federal Republic of Germany, of a democratic form of government, of the establishment very deeply of a set of values that would not permit that horror to happen again.”