Jews Were ‘wounded’ by Reagan’s Visit to Military Cemetery, Two Holocaust Survivors Spokesmen Say
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Jews Were ‘wounded’ by Reagan’s Visit to Military Cemetery, Two Holocaust Survivors Spokesmen Say

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Two leading spokesmen for Holocaust survivors said yesterday that Jews were “wounded” by President Reagan’s visit to the military cemetery at Bitburg despite the good speeches he made the same day at the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the U.S. Air-Force base at Bitburg.

“In the long run, I’m sure that the wounds will heal,” Elie Wiesel, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, said on the ABC-TV “This Week With David Brinkley” program. “After all he is the President and we must deal with his policies, with his staff, with his Administration.” He added: “But the wounds are there and the wounds are deep. I felt excluded, rejected, almost unnecessary when I watched the Bitburg visit.”

Wiesel stated that the visit was “totally unnecessary. It could have been a beginning of a new era of reconciliation in the truest sense of the word. There was no need to have it there. The same words could have been spoken elsewhere with the same gestures, and even the same results. I would say with better results.”


Simon Wiesenthal, the Vienna-based Nazi hunter, said on the CBS-TV “Face the Nation” program that he had been asked to accompany Reagan to Bergen-Belsen but had refused as had all other Jews who had been invited. “You cannot neutralize going to concentration camps, a cemetery, then you in the same day going to a cemetery with SS,” he said.

Wiesenthal said the German people “absolutely don’t need” this type of simple reconciliation. He said 60 percent of today’s Germans were born after World War II and 10 percent were children during the war. “In no country is the distance between the young and the old generations so big like in Germany,” he said. He explained that most young Germans know “their fathers and grandfathers are guilty. They shame for this.” Wiesenthal added that immediately after the war, most Germans condemned Hitler because he lost the war while young Germans condemn him today because he started it. “This is the big difference,” he said.


Also appearing on the ABC program, Hyman Bookbinder, the American Jewish Committee’s representative in Washington, said “there is pain, there is anguish” over Reagan’s visit to Bitburg. “What could have been a glorious day, a marvelous day, both of reconciliation and memory, has been marred by this 10-minute visit to Bitburg that should not have taken place.”

But Bookbinder stressed that “we are grieved today, but we do not love our country any less because of what happened today. We are no less determined as we always have been, to work with this Administration and any Administration in common pursuit of important goals.”


Secretary of State George Shultz, who appeared on the CBS program, said yesterday was a day of “conflicting emotions” in which Reagan stressed both that the world must “never forget” the Holocaust and at the same time reconciliation with a democratic Germany.

“The big themes to me are, on the one hand, not let’s forget, but never forget, and thereby take out an insurance policy on never again, but at the same time see that you do have the German people, at least the West German people, a free country, a democratic country, join with others to protect that very freedom,” Shultz said.

But former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, on the ABC program, said the visit to Bitburg was a mistake which he blamed on the German government. He said that Reagan and Chancellor Helmut Kohl could have honored the dead in Bonn.

Schmidt said there had been “enormous advancements in the reconciliation” since the Marshall Plan. “No, we haven’t gone all the way, then there are decades to come and Hitler cannot of course, or must of course not be forgotten, and all the crimes that he committed,” he said.

“But any attempts to accelerate this process by dramatic gestures, I think has some risk, as we have been shown in these days.” However he added there can never be any reconciliation with the SS. “You don’t reconcile with criminals,” he said.

However on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” Franz-Joseph Strauss, Minister-President of Bavaria, said today’s Germans are allies of the U.S. and “the sons and grandsons of the soldiers of World War II” are now defending the same goals, one of which is to see that there are no more concentration camps which today are being established by the Communists. He said he remembers the Hitler-Stalin Pact which was “a pact to divide Poland.”

Richard Burt, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, who is expected to replace Arthur Burns as Ambassador to Bonn, noted on the NBC program that “the West Germans recognize the fact of the Holocaust … The East German regime says that they have no responsibility for that terrible event.”

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