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The Decision is Final: Rea Gan and Kohl Will Both Visit the Bitburg Cemetery

April 24, 1985
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Chancellor Helmut Kohl and President Reagan will together visit the military cemetery at Bitburg next month where Reagan will place a wreath at the graves of some 2,000 German soldiers, among them members of the notorious Waffan SS.

The government’s chief spokesman, Peter Boenisch, said today that there has been no change of plans, despite the fierce anger aroused in the U.S. over Reagan’s intention to honor German war dead, including Nazis, and the bitter controversy over the matter that has developed here.

In response to suggestions in the U.S. that Kohl ease Reagan’s predicament by proposing a visit to another site where no Nazis are known to be buried, Boenisch said the Chancellor and the President talked about the matter by telephone and decided that they will go to Bitburg.


Meanwhile, Alfred Dregger, chairman of the Bundestag faction of Kohl’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian coalition partner, the Christian Social Union (CSU), has come under heavy fire for sending letters to members of the U.S. Senate defending Reagan’s visit to Bitburg.

Hermann Langbein, secretary of the Committee of Auschwitz Survivors, charged that Dregger’s letter amounts to a defense of the Third Reich and its now deceased machinery of death. Langbein, who lives in Vienna, also criticized Dregger’s remark that he was proud of having defended a German city against advancing Russian troops in the final days of World War II. His statement was published by the press service of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD).

Kohl and Dregger have been criticized by some West German news organizations for their handling of Reagan’s itinerary. Liberal and leftwing newspapers accused them of insensitivity. But other newspapers have lashed out at American television networks for describing Bitburg as a “Nazi cemetery.”

They claim there is a distinction between the SS, who ran the Nazi extermination camps, and the Waffen SS who, they said, were integrated into the army and fought like any other soldiers.

It was members of the Waffen SS who, during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, massacred 115 disarmed and bound U.S. prisoners of war at Malmedy, not far from Bitburg.

Hans Albrecht, Prime Minister of the Federal State of Lower Saxony, meanwhile, has welcomed Reagan’s announcement that he will visit the site of the former concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen, near Hannover. He said the State government is preparing strong security measures to protect the President and his party.

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