PHILADELPHIA (Apr. 22)
Menachem Rosensaft, the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, has issued one of the strongest criticisms to date from a prominent figure in the American Jewish community of President Reagan’s planned visit to the Bitburg military cemetery in West Germany.
“President Reagan has allied himself with those who seek to forget or deny the Holocaust,” Rosensaft declared in an emotionally charged address to thousands of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their families gathered at Independence Hall for the opening ceremonies of the three-day Inaugural Assembly of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, which began yesterday.
“If President Reagan refuses to cancel the visit to Bitburg,” Rosensaft continued, “we must see to it that survivors, children of survivors and American war veterans will be waiting for him at the gates of the cemetery. Let him pass before us there and look into our faces, and perhaps then at last he will understand the enormity of the outrage he has perpetrated.”
Rosensaft’s speech, which brought many survivors to their feet and was greeted with sustained applause, came at the conclusion of a day of speeches — most criticizing Reagan’s forthcoming Bitburg cemetery visit — and prayers and remembrance of the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
The survivors and their families were first joined by thousands of persons under clear sunny skies yesterday afternoon at the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs near City Hall on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. There, the survivors were welcomed to this city — selected for the gathering partly due to its symbolism of freedom — by Mayor Wilson Goode.
LAMENT ‘MORAL INAPPROPRIATENESS’ OF BITBURG VISIT
Among the speakers at the Monument was Marion Wilen, President of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia, who said, “While we welcome President Reagan’s belated decision to pay tribute to the six million … we lament the moral inappropriateness of his unchanged plan to visit a German military cemetery.”
The Rev. C. Edward Geiger, executive director of the Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia declared: “After 40 years, there are still those of us– even going as high as the White House and the President of the United States — who do not understand the uniqueness of this event (the Holocaust) in human history.”
Following selected readings six candles were lit in memory of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. After the recitation of Kaddish, the survivors led a “Road to Freedom” procession to Independence Hall.
The 14-block march through the city, effectively choking off traffic and drawing curious and inquisitive stares from onlookers, was headed by survivors who carried an Israeli and American flag, along with a torch lit from a ceremonial Menorah at the Martyrs Monument, erected 21 years ago as the nation’s first memorial to the Holocaust victims.
At Independence Hall, each survivor was given a white carnation to carry across Independence Mall and drop at the base of the Liberty Bell, in a symbol of thanks for their freedom. Youngsters handing out the carnations had a single word inscribed on their baseball caps, in Hebrew, which translated, meant, “Remember.”
THE PAST CANNOT BE FORGOTTEN
The crowd at Independence Hall, estimated by officials at 17,000 persons, listened to the United States Army Band and later watched as soldiers in dress blue trooped the colors of army divisions that liberated Nazi death camps.
Cardinal John Kroll of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Sen. Arlen Specter (R. Pa.) and Governor Dick Thornburgh spoke at the Independence Hall as did Mayor Goode. Benjamin Meed, president of the American Gathering and the Federation of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, told the gathering that by “remembering the past, we can build the future with integrity.”
“Therefore, we want our national leaders … to know that we are hurt and angered when they suggest that now is the time to forget, that amnesia should be the foundation of the German future,” Meed declared. “The Germans today say they don’t remember or that they never knew what was happening. Yes, we know what they want to forget. Must we help them.”
Rosensaft’s speech followed, at a point when the heat and sun from the long afternoon appeared to be taking its toll on some of the survivors who are gathering here. He assailed the President not only for the planned Bitburg visit but for the remarks he made last week equating the victims of the Holocaust with Nazi soldiers, saying they, too, were victims.
Rosensaft said the President “is distorting history and that “we are in the midst of a moral crisis of unprecedented proportions.” He added: “For heavens sake, let him find another cemetery. There must be at least one in all of Germany which does not contain SS men.”