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European Jewry Reported to Be ‘profoundly Distressed and Outraged’ by Reagan’s Visit to War Cemetery

April 26, 1985
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

President Reagan was urged yesterday by the European branch of the World Jewish Congress to cancel his planned visit to the Bitburg military cemetery in West Germany where German war dead, including at least 47 Waffen SS soldiers, are buried.

In a telegram to the President, the WJC European section chairman Greville Janner said European Jewry was “profoundly distressed and outraged” by the planned visit to Bitburg. “We presume that this insensitive gesture can only be the result of bad advice which we urge you to reject,” the telegram said.

Janner, a member of British Parliament and President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, speaking to the WJC American Section here, said, “I am astonished that a man who has been regarded as a person of sensitivity and understanding, not least for Jewish causes, would even consider the possibility of visiting the graves of Nazis.”

The American section of the WJC, at its regularly scheduled session, was to have heard a report from Janner on his official visit to the Jewish communities and governmental leaders of India, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia from where he just returned. But the continuing controversy over Reagan’s intention to visit Bitburg and lay a wreath on graves of German soldiers dominated the meeting.

Following the general meeting, attended by representatives of all the 32-member organizations of the WJC-American Section, the nine-member executive committee adopted several resolutions which included an endorsement of a mass demonstration in Lafayette Park across from the White House, scheduled for May 5, in protest against the planned Bitburg visit.

At the same time, Kenneth Bialkin, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said yesterday after a separate meeting of the Conference that the heads of Catholic and Protestant church groups, labor unions, veterans organizations, and civil rights groups were being invited to participate in the Lafayette Park rally.

The rally, sponsored by the Washington Jewish Community Council, is expected to draw Jewish leaders from throughout the country, and will be followed by a ceremonial visit by a small group to Arlington National Cemetery, Bialkin announced. He added that local Jewish community groups across the country were planning to visit local U.S. military cemeteries on May 5, the day Reagan is scheduled to lay a wreath at Bitburg.

Bialkin said, “No one challenges the President’s goal of reconciliation” with West Germany. “Reconciliation is a fact. It requires no honor to the German war dead to confirm the new friendship and mutual respect that exists today between Washington and Bonn, a relationship based in large part on the vast amounts of economic aid our country provided and the military protection we give still to the new Germany.”


At the WJC-American Section meeting, the executive committee also endorsed the decision for members of European Jewry to demonstrate outside the gates of the Bitburg cemetery when Reagan goes there in two weeks. The WJC will also ask its leaders in 69 countries to meet with American Ambassadors and urge that they request to the President that he not go to Bitburg.

At the conclusion of the general membership meeting, Israel Singer, secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, spoke by telephone with the West German Ambassador in Washington, Guenther Van Well. The Ambassador informed Singer that there has been no change in the plans to visit Bitburg. Singer met Tuesday night in Washington with the Ambassador on the issue.

Singer, meanwhile, speaking to reporters after the meeting yesterday, strongly suggested that Marshall Breger, the Reagan Administration’s liaison official for the Jewish community, should resign over the Bitburg controversy. “I would resign,” Singer said, “if I had no effect on something that has such a profound affect on the Jewish people.”

Breger has some under increased criticism from some leaders in the American Jewish community for his reported efforts in advance to try and soften Elie Wiesel’s criticism of the Bitburg visit before Wiesel spoke at the White House last Friday.

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