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Controversy Erupts over Re-naming a Street in Bergen for Anne Frank

A fierce controversy is raging in the town of Bergen in Lower Saxony over a proposal to re-name a street for Anne Frank, the Dutch-born Jewish teen-ager who perished in the nearby Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

Supporters of the change, among them local officials of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the DGB trade union organization have been receiving hate mail and anonymous telephone calls, some threatening physical harm. They have been labeled “German pigs.”

Local leaders of the governing Christian Democratic Union (CDU) vigorously oppose renaming Bergen Street Anne Frank Street on grounds that the citizens of Bergen are fed up with being saddled with guilt over the Holocaust. The change seems doomed inasmuch as the town council is dominated by the CDU which holds 20 seats to nine by the SPD.

Anne Frank, who died at the age of 15, became an international symbol of the horror of the Holocaust following the posthumous publication of her diaries after World War II. The proposal to name a street in her memory gained impetus after President Reagan and Chancellor “Helmut Kohl visited the Bergen-Belsen site last May 5.

The visit, a last minute addition to the President’s itinerary, was intended to cool the heat of criticism over Reagan’s visit the same day to a German military cemetery at Bitburg where members of the notorious Waffen SS are buried among other German war dead.

Guenther Ernst, a CDU official who publishes Bergen’s weekly newspaper, said naming Bergen Street, which leads to Bergen-Belsen, Anne Frank Street would amount to a “permanent presentation of the horrors of the Holocaust” and “we cannot reasonably expect the inhabitants of this town to take this.”

He added, “The people of Bergen are fed up with shouldering an additional burden of guilt for what happened at Bergen-Belsen.” They will not, he said, be branded “with the mark of Cain.”

Reporters who talked to local residents shortly before the Reagan/Kohl visit found the same attitude. They heard complaints from towns-people that they were unjustly burdened by the tendency to link their town with the terrible story of Bergen-Belsen where tens of thousands of Jews, Gypsies and Russian prisoners of war died.

The older inhabitants claimed they had known nothing of what went on inside the concentration camp, only a stone’s throw away. Youngsters, born after the war, said their parents refused to speak to them about the subject and their schools did not provide them with knowledge of the systematic killing of Jews in the nearby camp.

Although Ernst said he had “nothing against” Anne Frank, town officials disclosed that several attempts were made between 1960-1970 to name schools in Bergen after Anne Frank. All were rejected by overwhelming majorities among the population as a whole and in the town council.

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