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Europe's Jews Join Outcry Over Bitburg : Some West German Leaders Also Criticize Cemetery Visit Plan

April 29, 1985|TYLER MARSHALL | Times Staff Writer

DACHAU, West Germany — Jewish groups from Eastern and Western Europe added their voices Sunday to the growing opposition to President Reagan's planned visit to a German war cemetery, and some influential political figures in West Germany also began calling for the visit's cancellation.

Representatives of the Jewish groups came together here to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp near Munich.

Simone Weil of France, once a young prisoner at Auschwitz who later became president of the European Parliament, said that it is "impossible to accept" Reagan's attempt to put the victims of Adolf Hitler's SS units on the same level as those SS soldiers who died in the war.

'California Is Far Away'

Speaking to reporters outside the Jewish memorial temple at Dachau, Weil added: "I think President Reagan didn't know what happened in Europe (during the war). After all, California is very far from Europe."

There are 49 graves of SS soldiers among those of about 2,000 World War II soldiers at the cemetery Reagan plans to visit May 5 at the town of Bitburg, near the Luxembourg border.

The SS, an abbreviation for Schutzstaffel, or protection unit, ran the infamous concentration camps but also fielded combat divisions units, known as the Waffen SS.

The Dachau commemoration took place amid a growing feeling in West German political circles that the force of the controversy about Reagan's scheduled Bitburg visit has made the hoped-for gesture of reconciliation impossible.

While some voices, including that of West German President Richard von Weiszaecker, expressed confidence that the visit could still take place, there is a sense that here, as in the United States, the tide of opinion has begun to swing against the visit.

'Clumsy . . . Embarrassing'

Franz Josef Strauss, chairman of the Christian Social Union, which is a partner in West Germany's ruling coalition, labeled the preparation for the Bitburg visit as "clumsy" and the results "embarrassing."

He called instead for Reagan to lay a wreath at a tomb of the unknown soldier in Munich, a monument for those killed in World Wars I and II.

Stuttgart Mayor Manfred Rommel said that he would understand if the Bitburg visit was canceled. "I don't think this would be a loss of face for (Chancellor Helmut) Kohl," Rommel said. He is the son of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was forced to commit suicide for his alleged implication in a plot to kill Hitler.

Strauss and Rommel were interviewed by the mass circulation tabloid Bild.

Weil made her remarks to journalists here after delivering a formal address to the estimated 300 people who gathered at the Jewish temple inside the walls of the former concentration camp.

Another speaker was Simon Snopkowski, leader of the Bavarian Jewish community, who chronicled episodes of brutality carried out by the SS during World War II. He told the group: "There are other, better, people in other places where he (Reagan) should pay his respects. For example, the Scholls."

Sophie and Hans Scholl were Munich University students executed in 1943 for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets.

"We don't know and cannot understand why he (Reagan) is doing it," Julius Spokojny, another Bavarian Jewish leader, imprisoned at Buchenwald, told the gathering.

In sharp contrast to the assemblage of prominent West German political leaders and ambassadors which marked the liberation anniversary of the Bergen-Belsen camp in an emotional ceremony one week ago, there were few recognizable faces at Dachau.

Groups of former concentration camp victims from Hungary, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Denmark wandered through the camp grounds now preserved as a museum.

After parallel Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish commemorative services, a large crowd numbering in the thousands gathered at the camp's crematorium for a wreath-laying ceremony.

Dachau was the first of the Nazi concentration camps, established about 15 miles north of Munich just seven weeks after Hitler took power in January, 1933. It was originally used to house German political opponents of Hitler. It was one of the last liberated, freed by American troops on April 28, 1945, two days before Hitler committed suicide in Berlin.

Camp records indicate that at least 32,000 persons perished at Dachau.

Meantime, the newspaper Bild, in a front-page commentary scheduled for publication today, urged Kohl to cancel Reagan's scheduled cemetery visit.

"Suddenly it is clear on what thin ground the 'friendship' of former enemies stands," the commentary says.

"Friendship cannot be forced with violence or with grand gestures. The chancellor should spare Reagan the journey to Bitburg."

Although looked upon disparagingly by German intellectuals, Bild tends both to reflect and help set the public mood in West Germany. Its former editor, Peter Boenisch, is the government spokesman.

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