NEW YORK (May. 14)
The visit by President Reagan and Chancellor Helmut Kohl to the Bitburg military cemetery on May 5 “lifted the scab on dark corners of recent German history” revealing vindictive anti-Semitism just beneath the surface in that Bavarian town, according to a first-hand report by NBC News correspondent Marvin Kalb which confirms the worst fears of Jews and others who had protested against Reagan’s visit.
Kalb, in an op-ed page column in the New York Times Tuesday, said he visited the cemetery the morning after Reagan and Kohl were there and talked to Germans, young, middle-aged and old about the episode.
He wrote that the cemetery which had been “largely ignored” for years, has become “an instant shrine.” He saw “small flower pots marking many flat graves, 49 of them honoring Waffen SS troops. By the end of my visit, many hundreds of Germans and occasional Americans from the nearby Air Force base paused before the wreaths. Some took pictures. Mothers hushed children. A religious air seemed to saturate the place.”
Kalb reported that “Six feet to the left of the President’s wreath stood an equally impressive one. Across its banner: ‘To the Waffen SS who fell at Leningrad.’ No more than a foot to the right of the Chancellor’s was another wreath:’ For the fallen comrades of the Waffen SS.'”
He disclosed that both wreaths “had been placed in the chapel, out of sight, hours before the President arrived. They were restored to their original places of honor only hours after he left …”
A DISTURBING CONVERSATION
Most disturbing was Kalb’s report of a conversation with natives of Bitburg. One, “who looked to be in his 20’s,” is quoted as saying, “‘We Germans and Americans had been cooperating very well’ — he lowered his voice — ‘until the Jews began to make trouble.'”
“Another Bitburger zeroed in on Elie Wiesel. ‘Imagine the nerve of a Jew lecturing President Reagan. I saw him on television making trouble the way they all do.’
“An old woman complained that Mr. Reagan had spent only eight minutes at the cemetery. ‘You know why the visit had to be cut back? Because of the Jews.’ She stalked away to join a group of friends nodding in agreement.
“A man with a cane stopped and said: ‘If they don’t like it here, the Jews, let them go away. We were better off without them in Germany.’ There are only 28,000 left, he was reminded. ‘Too many,’ he replied.”
Kalb reported that the people of Bitburg are pleased that Reagan did not yield to pressure to cancel his visit. “But it’s clear they resent their new notoriety — and equally clear whom they consider responsible for the unwelcome change: the Jews and media. The Jews are seen as a group separate from Germans and Americans — an indigestible lump, a foreign body. The media are seen as intrusive and irresponsible and, somehow, controlled by the Jews,” Kalb wrote.