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State Senate Urges Reagan to Shun German Cemetery

April 19, 1985|MARK GLADSTONE | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The state Senate on Thursday called on President Reagan to abandon plans to visit a West German military cemetery that contains graves of Nazi SS combat troops.

On a 26-0 vote, with all but three Republicans abstaining, the Senate adopted and sent to the Assembly a measure urging Reagan to reverse himself.

Sen. President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who carried the proposal, asserted that if Reagan visits the military cemetery at Bitburg, West Germany, and lays a wreath there, he could unintentionally encourage neo-Nazis in the United States.

Roberti voiced fears that "the message that he (Reagan) is sending is a profound one, a confused one at best, but a dangerous one to literally hundreds of people in our society who seem to feel an identity to the Nazi movement."

Reagan plans to go to Europe on April 30, in part, to observe the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II. But controversy has erupted over his scheduled May 5 cemetery stop, prompting Reagan to add a Nazi death camp to his itinerary.

Meantime, Gov. George Deukmejian at a Los Angeles press conference said Thursday the President initially "received some poor advice" before deciding to visit a concentration camp.

In Sacramento, Roberti told the Senate he introduced his resolution after reading about federal indictments in Seattle of 23 persons on charges of using armed robbery, arson, counterfeiting and murder in pursuit of their goal of a white supremacist society.

Roberti also cited the thousands of Americans who died fighting the Nazis and the millions of people who were killed in death camps as added justification for Reagan to cancel the cemetery visit.

Senate Republican leader James W. Nielsen of Woodland disagreed with Roberti on the symbolism of Reagan's cemetery trip. "I don't think in any way the action of the President would be lending any credence or justification to any current neo-Nazi activity here," Nielsen said.

"Friend and foe all died in these hallowed fields," Nielsen said of the World War II dead. "Maybe some of them were of a neo-Nazi mentality. They all fought for something that they believed in, and we have to respect that because there are many beliefs."

Nielsen urged Republicans to abstain from voting on the issue. However, three GOP senators-- Jim Ellis of San Diego, Milton Marks of San Francisco and Newton R. Russell of Glendale--voted for the measure.

Deukmejian, an Armenian, also told reporters he supports adoption of a congressional resolution marking the 70th anniversary of the Armenian genocide at the hands of Ottoman Turks. Turkey denies any genocide occurred.

The Reagan Administration opposes the resolution.

Citing the Holocaust, the Armenian genocide and the recent slaughter of millions of Cambodians, Deukmejian said: "I think that it is well for us to continue to be aware of those types of historical incidents in the hopes that efforts would be made for advancing more good will and more good faith among people so that those horrendous situations are not repeated."

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