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Annual Day of Remembrance Overshadowed by Reagan’s Plans to Visit German Military Cemetery

April 19, 1985
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The deep distress in the Jewish community over President Reagan’s plans to lay a wreath at a West German military cemetery next month overshadowed the annual Day of Remembrance ceremony in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol today.

Elie Wiesel, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, told Reagan’s representative at the Yom Hashoa ceremony, Secretary of State George Shultz, “Please be our emissary. Tell those who need to know that our pain is genuine, our outrage is deep and our perplexity is great.”

Shultz did not reply directly to Wiesel. But he departed from his prepared address to say, “I share with you also the deep conviction that there is no place within the deep spirit we feel of reconciliation and compassion…of understanding for those who took part in the perpetration of the Nazi horror.”

Reagan has defended his plans to lay a wreath on the graves of German soldiers buried in the Bitburg military cemetery as part of his effort to mark the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II in a spirit of reconciliation.


“We look with understanding upon our government’s efforts to deal with German sensitivities,” Wiesel said. “But what about American sensitivity? Did no one consider the pain and the shame some, if not most Americans, would feel upon learning that the President of the United States–for whom we have affection and admiration–plans to visit a cemetery in which there are a good number of SS graves?”

Rep. Stephen Solarz (D. N.Y.) also declared that while tribute should be paid to the victims of the Holocaust “it is not, nor can it ever be appropriate, for us to pay tribute to the villains whose service in the Nazi regime made it possible.”

Sigmund Strochlitz, co-chairman of the Holocaust Memorial Council’s Days of Remembrance committee and an Auschwitz survivor, said it was wrong for the Administration to say that reawakening the memories of the Holocaust would be a “wholesale indictment” of West Germany.

He said the attempt by Administration officials to “gloss over” the Nazi atrocities for fear of offending today’s Germans is “not only an affront to the memory of the victims of the Holocaust and an insult to the survivors” but is helping “the cause of those who are attempting to deny the Holocaust ever took place.”


A similar charge was made earlier in the day by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D. N.J.). At a breakfast meeting for the Holocaust Memorial Council, he also said Reagan’s decision to visit the military cemetery is “at best insensitive, and at worst an insult to the parents of the sons of America who were killed by these people.”

Expressing the hope that the President will change his mind, Lautenberg said that “whatever bizarre good-will comes of it will be offset by the fact that we pay tribute to murderers.” He said the President should visit a death camp instead.

The President’s planned visit to the cemetery was also the center of attention at a Capitol Hill reception last night given by Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R. Kans.) and his wife, Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Dole, to launch the drive to raise $100 million for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to be built here. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D. Ohio) told the gathering that “it would be an abomination” for Reagan to visit the cemetery and that it cannot be offset by a trip to a concentration camp.

Metzenbaum initiated a letter signed by 52 other Senators urging Reagan to cancel the cemetery visit.


In his speech at the Capitol Rotunda ceremony, Shultz noted that he will be visiting Yad Vashem in Israel next month. “The images of Jewish suffering at Nazi hands still burns in our memories,” he said. “We will never forget and the world must never forget the inhumanity of which mankind is capable when it disregards the sanctity, the dignity and the human rights of all men and women.”

Shultz stressed that in never forgetting “the atrocities committed by Hitler…we will continue to pursue the criminals who carried out his awful design. We will bring them to justice no matter how long it takes.”

Sen. Claiborne Pell (D. R.I.) pointed out that the U.S. had failed to help the victims of the Holocaust during the war by turning away refugees and by refusing to bomb the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz.

This was also noted by Wiesel who added that the Soviet Union was even closer to Auschwitz than the U.S. Army and it too did nothing. He said today, the USSR and other East European countries are seeking to wipe out the memory of what happened to Jews during World War II.

A highlight of today’s ceremony was the presentation of Army Secretary John Marsh of the regimental colors of 10 army units that liberated death camps 40 years ago. The flags will be displayed in the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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