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Reagan and Kohl Face Growing Momentum of Protests in Europe

April 29, 1985
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President Reagan and Chancellor Helmut Kohl faced a surging momentum of protests here and elsewhere in Europe over the weekend as they apparently decided to stand tough against appeals that the President cancel his visit to the Bitburg cemetery where he will be honoring members of the notorious Waffan SS along with other fallen German soldiers of World War II.

The protests have, at the same time, generated a backlash in the West German media, ranging from defenses of Reagan’s plans in traditionally conservative newspapers to anti-Semitic outbursts against alleged “Jewish power” in the U.S. in at least one picture tabloid.

Appeals continued to be made in West Germany and other countries by Jewish and non-Jewish groups for the President to find a different site to dramatize U.S.- German reconciliation.

They were re-enforced by a resolution adopted by the U.S. Senate last Friday urging Reagan to “reassess his planned itinerary.” The resolution, which is not binding, was co-signed by 80 of the 100 members of the Republican controlled Senate and was adopted by voice vote without opposition.


Women for Peace, which reportedly has a membership of about 70,000 in West Germany, sent an open letter to Kohl Friday asking him to cancel the memorial service at Bitburg and to “recognize the voice of another Germany with peace movements trying to learn from our history.”

The letter stated in part: “Reconciliation between people and the serious remembrance of the guilt and the criminal acts of World War II and the Nazi dictatorship can only be reached through a memorial to those women and men resistance fighters against fascism and German militarism … We support … all those initiatives of reconciliation between peoples that do not happen over the graves of the Waffen SS, at military cemeteries or near modern weapon arsenals, as in Bitburg.”

Reagan, who flies to Bonn on Tuesday for a Western economic summit meeting, is scheduled to visit the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp next Sunday, May 5 and, later the same day, the cemetery at Bitburg where he may place a wreath.


In Brussels yesterday, the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) which has a membership of 40,000 in 17 countries, made public a letter they sent to Reagan asking, “For what reason does one honor individuals so lacking in human sentiment as to be capable of organizing without the least scruple the extermination of their fellow human beings?”

The letter also asked: “Why does the United States of America now decide to honor them after having witnessed themselves the liberation of the concentration camps, the appalling condition of the survivors and the spectacle of unrestrained genocide in its horrific detail?

“How can we explain such a profound change in attitudes by which in such a few years, the original sense of profound contempt and disgust in the face of such cruelty can give way to a situation whereby these self-same perpetrators of death and suffering are deemed to be worthy of such an honor?”

The student union also sent a letter to Kohl expressing indignation that Reagan’s visit to Bitburg was suggested by his government.


The West German press, which has focussed intensely on the controversy for the past two weeks, is sharply divided, as demonstrated by the opposing positions taken by two of the country’s most respected dailies. The leftist Frankfurter Rundschau declared that the damage to Germany’s image and to German-American relations has already been done and the damage is likely to worsen if Kohl insists on the visit, leaving Reagan no way out.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung however praised Kohl for what it called his “impressive speech” defending the Bitburg visit. The paper noted with approval that the Chancellor had made it clear that at Bitburg individuals, not organizations are buried.

The weekly picture magazine Quick loosed an anti-Semitic blast when it proclaimed in a headline “macht und stimmer der Juden” (Power and Voices of the Jews) in the U.S. The headline topped a photograph of Reagan shaking hands with Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, director of international relations of the American Jewish Committee.


Meanwhile, strong reactions continued against Alfred Dregger, chairman of the joint parliamentary faction of Kohl’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian coalition partner, Christian Social Union (CSU) who recently sent a letter to 53 U.S. Senators opposed to the President’s Bitburg visit.

In the letter Dregger, among other things, accused the Senators of insulting the memory of his brother who, as he pointedly noted, died on the Eastern front fighting the Russians in World War II.

A retired general, Gert Bastian, who is an independent member of the Bundestag, took Dregger to task yesterday for the letter that was embarrassing to Germany and “included unbearable doses of arrogance, unwillingness to learn and a holier-than-thou attitude.”

Bastian asserted that Dregger’s letter demonstrated a refusal to understand that under the Hitler dictatorship, it was far nobler to fight against the Nazi regime than against those who opposed it. He urged Dregger to apologize to the Senators for “confirming the most unflattering prejudices about the self-righteous Germans.” He observed that it is beyond President Reagan to give the “general absolution” asked by Dregger.

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