Say Kohl Refused to Suggest Reagan Cancel Cemetery Visit With AM-Death Camp-Kohl
FRANKFURT, West Germany (AP) _ Jewish leaders said Sunday that Chancellor Helmut Kohl rejected their appeal to suggest that President Reagan cancel a visit to a military cemetary during his trip to West Germany next month.
World Jewish Congress leaders, in West Germany to attend Sunday’s 40th anniversary memorial service at the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, said they met briefly with Kohl to discuss Reagan’s planned visit to the Bitburg cemetery.
″Our mission failed. The chancellor stood firm. We gave it our best shot but Kohl will not change his mind,″ Elan Steinberg, director of the Congress’ American section, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The World Jewish Congress delegation met Kohl shortly after the chancellor addressed the ceremony at the former Nazi death camp where some 50,000 people were killed.
Reagan and Kohl will visit the Bergen-Belsen site together during the president’s state visit May 1-6.
Earlier this month, Reagan announced he would visit the Bitburg military cemetery but had no plans to include a former concentration camp on his itinerary.
There was a storm of criticism in America and abroad, and on Friday the White House announced Reagan and Kohl would visit Bergen-Belsen on May 5.
Among the bodies buried at Bitburg are those of 47 SS troopers and nearly 2,000 German soldiers, most of whom were killed in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Thousands of American soldiers also died in that battle.
The World Jewish Congress delegation was led by Secretary-General Israel Singer and Kalman Sultanik, a vice president.
″Kohl told us that there were no Nazis buried at Bitburg, only young boys,″ Sultanik told AP as the group returned to Frankfurt after the Bergen- Belsen ceremony.
″He told us the Bitburg visit was important for German-American relations, and for Germany,″ he added.
Kohl had welcomed Reagan’s decision to visit the Bitburg cemetery, saying it would be ″gesture of reconciliation″ 40 years after the end of World War II.
But Singer said, ″This will not help reconciliation, it will have directly the opposite effect.″
Sultanik said Kohl ″had no reaction at all″ when the delegation proposed that Reagan drop the visit to Bitburg and instead visit the grave of West Germany’s first chancellor, Konrad Adenauer. Adenauer, a staunch foe of Nazism, served as chancellor from 1949 through 1963.
″Kohl was very friendly, but for me his decision is very difficult. I cannot live with the reconciliation with Nazi killers,″ said Sultanik, a survivor of a concentration camp near Dresden.
He said the European section of the World Jewish Congress would hold emergency consultations this week to decide on further action.
Sultanik said the European section was considering anti-Reagan demonstrations if the president proceeds with the Bitburg visit.