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Rally Protests Reagan’s Bitburg Visit

Some 500 persons, including Holocaust survivors, war veterans and Christian and Jewish leaders, demonstrated at Federal Plaza in downtown Manhattan yesterday protesting President Reagan’s planned visit to the Bitburg military cemetery in West Germany where some 47 Waffen SS soldiers are buried.

The rally, which kicked off a petition drive urging that Reagan cancel the planned visit, also heard Lou Klein, former New York State Commander of the Jewish War Veterans and recipient of three Purple Heart medals for wounds in World War II, announce that he would return the medals to the U.S. government if Reagan goes to Bitburg.

“President Reagan’s decision to visit Bitburg and to honor the soldiers there is an affront to the memory of the 176,000 Americans who died fighting Hitler and the millions of victims of the Holocaust — Jews and non-Jew alike, ” Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman told the rally.

Urging the protesters to “let your voice be heard,” Holtzman declared, “Mr. President, laying a wreath at Bitburg will cause incalculable pain for those veterans who fought against Hitler, for the families of those who died at the hands of the Nazi murderers, and those who survived the Holocaust. Please avoid this unnecessary anguish and cancel your plans to honor the Nazi soldiers at Bitburg.”

Dr. Harry Faivus, president of the Generation After, said the SS soldiers buried at Bitburg have already once been honored by Hitler and “the medals on their graves are proof of it. How then can the President even think of going there to seek reconciliation with the murderers of our people?”

‘A BETRAYAL TO HUMANITY’

John Ranz, president of the Holocaust Survivors Association, USA, said in a statement issued with Faivus, that “Honoring the SS murderers at the German military cemetery of the Hitler era is a betrayal to humanity that barely escaped the Nazi tyranny. These SS criminals killed defenseless American prisoners in cold blood.”

Menachem Rosensaft, founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, said that “we must prevent President Reagan from desecrating the memory of the victims of the Holocaust by going to Bitburg. It is outrageous that the itinerary of the President of the United States should be dictated by the head of a foreign government. President Reagan’s insistence on honoring Nazi SS men is obscene and morally repugnant.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a statement read to those assembled in Federal Plaza, in urging that Reagan cancel the proposed visit, said, “Let history not record that the 40th anniversary of the end of the war was remembered by commemorating those who personified the evil of National Socialism.”

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