WASHINGTON (Apr. 21)
Eli Wiesel, chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, said today that if President Reagan had responded to his plea last Friday not to go to a West German military cemetery next month, it would have been seen not as having given in to “pressure” but as a “human response to a human plea.” (See separate story, P. 2.)
“I think he would have come out stronger,” Wiesel said in an appearance on the ABC-TV “Issues and Answers” program. He added that “At this point, the key is in the hands of Chancellor (Helmut) Kohl.” He said Kohl should “release” Reagan from the President’s commitment to lay a wreath at the Bitburg military cemetery where some 2,000 German soldiers and 47 members of the Waffen SS are buried.
Reagan did not respond when Wiesel made an emotional plea to the President, at a ceremony at which he received the Congressional Gold Medal, that Reagan not go to the cemetery.
ALTERNATIVE SITES SUGGESTED
Wiesel said today that an alternative site could be found that would be in the spirit of reconciliation the President is seeking, and suggested a prison where Germans who opposed Hitler had been killed.
A similar suggestion on the ABC program was made by Rep. Stephen Solarz (D. N.Y.) who added that one alternative site could be the grave of Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, the first post-war Chancellor, who guided Germany toward democracy.
Wiesel said he feared that by going to the cemetery, Reagan was “implicitly and unwillingly giving a signal for the rehabilitation of the SS.” He said he would not be so anguished if only German soldiers and not SS were buried at the cemetery.
But Solarz said he would object to even this since World War II was not an ordinary war but against “an evil regime” that would have imposed “totalitarian terror” on the world.
Both Solarz and Wiesel said they were especially upset by Reagan’s comment last Thursday in which he said the German soldiers buried at Bitburg were “surely” as much victims as those who died in the death camps.
DOUBTS COUNCIL MEMBERS WILL RESIGN
“The victims suffered, the others caused the suffering,” Wiesel said. Solarz, a member of the Holocaust Memorial Council, said he doubted that members of the Council would resign. He said they have the important task of building a Holocaust museum, which Reagan supports, and “I think it is very important that this work continue.”
Both Wiesel and Solarz stressed that they did not believe in collective guilt and favor reconciliation with the Germany of today. But Michael Naumann, senior foreign editor of the West German newspaper Der Spiegel, said this reconciliation already exists. He said it came with the Marshall Plan and especially with the Berlin airlift.