SANTA BARBARA — President Reagan, during a 10-day trip to Europe next month, will visit a German military cemetery and lay a wreath in honor of German soldiers killed in World War II, his spokesman announced Thursday.
The President, who earlier turned down a request to visit the infamous Dachau concentration camp because he thought it would "send the wrong signal" to the German people, wants to emphasize the "spirit of reconciliation" between two former enemies, spokesman Larry Speakes said.
Reagan has no plans to visit the graves of American war dead while in Europe.
But a White House official, who asked not to be identified, said Thursday night that presidential advisers in the next couple of days will be watching closely for signs of a possible public furor over Reagan's planned cemetery visit. If an angry reaction should develop, he said, the President's schedule still could be changed--either by adding an event or altering the cemetery stop.
Some negative reaction began to emerge from Jewish groups late in the day.
Nathan Perlmutter, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, said Reagan is "indulging in insensitivity in not going to Dachau but going to this cemetery," Newsday reported.
Perlmutter added that he hopes Reagan uses the occasion "to speak to the unspeakable heinousness that the German army was responsible for," the newspaper said. Newsday also quoted Daniel Thursz, head of B'nai B'rith International, as saying that he was "shocked by this announcement."
Reagan will observe the 40th anniversary of V-E Day on May 8 by addressing the 10-nation European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
In all, Reagan intends to deliver four speeches on successive days in four countries celebrating the emergence of democracy in Europe since World War II. His first such address will be to several thousand German youths at the medieval castle of Hambach on May 6.
He also plans to speak to Spanish government and business leaders in Madrid on May 7 and to the Portuguese National Assembly in Lisbon on May 9--extolling the development of democracy in two nations ruled by right-wing dictatorships until a decade ago.
Administration officials, who asked not to be identified, said that Reagan's visit to a German military cemetery at Bitburg--near a Nazi tank-staging area for the Battle of the Bulge--was requested by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who will also participate in the wreath-laying ceremony.
The same officials said that Kohl earlier had recommended that Reagan also visit the notorious Nazi concentration camp at Dachau, something Jewish leaders joined in urging. But Reagan rejected the idea because he did not want to revive old "guilt feelings" among German citizens.
Day When Peace Began
Asked at a March 21 press conference why he had decided not to visit a Nazi concentration camp, Reagan said that he felt "very strongly" that "instead of reawakening the memories and the passions of the time . . . we should observe this (V-E) day as the day when, 40 years ago, peace began and friendships."
He added that "very few" Germans today "remember even the war and certainly none of them were adults and participating in any way. . . . They have a feeling, and a guilt feeling, that's been imposed upon them. And I just think it's unnecessary. I think they should be recognized for the democracy they've created."
Reagan later conceded that he had erred in saying that no German adults from World War II are still alive.
"The rationale" for paying homage to buried German soldiers, Speakes said, is that the President is going to Europe "in a spirit of reconciliation, in a spirit of 40 years of peace, in a spirit of economic and military compatibility."
Reagan is scheduled to visit Bitburg, near a major U.S. Air Force base, on Sunday, May 5. Buried there on a hill overlooking the small town are German soldiers killed in the region during the final months of World War II and throughout France during World War I.
Will Attend Picnic
Reagan and Kohl, accompanied by their wives, also plan to attend a picnic near Bitburg with several hundred U.S. and West German military personnel and their families.
Reagan will leave Washington on April 30 and fly to Bonn, where he will attend the annual economic summit of the seven largest industrial democracies May 3 and 4. He will return to Washington on May 10.
Speakes noted that participating in the economic summit will be the leaders of bitter World War II enemies: Britain, Canada, France and the United States on one side; West Germany, Italy, Japan on the other. "These people now sit down and discuss common problems and common issues," he observed.