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EUROPE : Celebration of D-Day Landing: A Messy Flap : Kohl is ignored by World War II Allies. He insists it would be inappropriate to go. Germans feel events should highlight reconciliation.

March 18, 1994|MARJORIE MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BONN — How many times must Chancellor Helmut Kohl's aides explain that, really, the German leader never nosed around for an invitation to the Allies' 50th anniversary celebration of D-Day in Normandy next June and does not feel snubbed at all that his good friends the French have not offered him one?

Kohl believes that it would be inappropriate to attend a celebration of the defeat of German soldiers, even if he were asked, aides say--unless French President Francois Mitterrand were to personally do the asking. But then no one really expects that to happen.

Mon Dieu . Mein Gott . What an undiplomatic mess.

So far, the 50th anniversary of the Allies' landing on the beaches of Normandy in Nazi-occupied France is turning out for Germany about as well as the 40th anniversary did in 1984, when Germany also was left out of the official celebration.

That's when Kohl arranged to meet with then-President Ronald Reagan in the Bitburg cemetery and insisted upon keeping the date even after it was discovered, to Reagan's embarrassment, that some of Hitler's Waffen-SS troops were buried there.

The commemoration of the Normandy invasion, which turned the tide of World War II in the Allies' favor, is the first event in more than a year of anniversaries, including that of an assassination attempt against Hitler on July 20, 1944, the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge, the crossing of the Rhine by Allied forces, the meeting of Russian and U.S. troops on the Elbe River and, finally, the capitulation of Germany.

German sensitivity over the issue has reached such heights that Kohl has taken control of his country's commemorations himself and directed all ministries to refer queries to his office.

Kohl aides note that post-war Germany has been an unfailing friend and ally of the West, and they are perturbed that the D-Day activities aim to be more a celebration of victory over Germany than of democracy and reconciliation.

"If I am good friends now with someone with whom I fought 50 years ago, I wouldn't celebrate my victory over them," a Kohl aide said. "How long will they be celebrating this? A hundred years? Two hundred? Or is this the end?"

The chancellor fears that Allied breast-beating might offend German nationalism during a crucial election year, and he has barred German diplomats from military-style ceremonies for D-Day.

The French and German governments actually are quite close. In 1984, Mitterrand and Kohl met in Verdun over the graves of World War I soldiers as a symbol of reconciliation, and Mitterrand apparently had promised Kohl a similar gesture this year.

But French efforts to appease Germany sensibilities so far have backfired.

French Defense Minister Francois Leotard announced last week that he and his German counterpart, Voker Ruehe, would tour a WWII cemetery together in Normandy.

But Leotard quickly withdrew the invitation when it turned out that, as in Bitburg, Nazi Waffen-SS were buried there.

This week, Jean-Marie Girault, the mayor of the Normandy city of Caen, announced that Kohl was welcome to his city's evening celebration of D-Day, although the French government did not invite the chancellor to the main daytime event at Omaha Beach with President Clinton, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and other dignitaries.

Bonn replied that the chancellor did not view this as a formal invitation.

WWII Remembrances

Other World War II anniversaries to be marked beginning this summer:

Assassination attempt against Hitler: July 20, 1944

Liberation of Paris: Aug. 25, 1944

Battle of the Bulge: December, 1944 to January, 1945

Crossing of the Rhine River by Allies: March 7, 1945

Meeting of US. and Russian troops at the Elbe River: April 25, 1945

Germany's surrender: May 8, 1945

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