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May 03, 1985 - Image 32

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-05-03

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Friday, May 3, 1985


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A small German town near the
Luxembourg frontier may turn
out to be the rock on which Ronald
Wilson Reagan's courtship of the
American Jewish community
It was on the issue of whether
the President of the United States
should pay homage to the German
war dead interred at Bitburg —
including 47 who had we -n the
death's head emblem of the. Waf-
fen SS — that the American
Jewish community found itself
almost unanimously at odds with
the man who has been so often
hailed as "the best friend the
State of Israel ever had in the
White House."
The confrontation between the
White House and the American
Jewish community is the sharpest
since 1981 when President Re-
agan rode roughshod over desper-
ate Jewish resistance and ram-
med through Congress authoriza-
tion to deliver enhanced AWACs
surveillance planes to Saudia
The scars of AWACs have
largely healed by now, in large
part because of the measures
taken by the Administration to
strengthen Israel's defense poten-
tial. It has been difficult, however,
to put out of mind Mr. Reagan's
blunt warning then that if Ameri-
can Jews persisted in placing Is-
rael's interests ahead of those of
the United States — which he im-
plied they were doing by fighting
the AWACs deal — there could be
an anti-Semitic reaction here.
The implication was there: if
the American Jewish community
played ball with the Administra-
tion and did not tie its hands in
the Middle East, it would bd re-
warded with favors bestowed on
the State of Israel. If it proved to
be obstreperous, these favors
would be withheld.
This is the kind of hardball poli-
tics the men around Reagan
understand and play. You give
something and you get some-
thing. You can play that game
with F-15s and tanks and smart
missiles but not with memories.
And because memories were the
fundamental issue in the Bitburg
episode, the Regans and the
Deavers and the Buchanans who
counsel the President were un-
able to give him guidance.
The White House Jewish con-
tact man should have had some
input but Marshall Bi-eger, who
tried to pressure Elie Weisel into
muting his criticism of the
President's decision to visit Bit-
burg, confessed that he had not
had direct access to the President
on the question, and had dealt
only with Donald Regan, the
White House chief of staff who is
slowly learning what pitfalls lie
concealed in even the simplest
So there was the President,
eager to bestow a political favor
on Chancellor Helmut Kohl by
making the gesture stressing
German-American reconciliation
and burying the enmity of World
War II. To his thinking, it was
better to stress a friendly future
than to recall the enmity of the

That the gesture Kohl wanted
of him and that he readily agreed
to make would be construed as an
insult to the six million Jews and
the millions of other Europeans
who perished at the hands of the
Nazis most certainly never
crossed his mind.
Weeks before his plan to visit
the cemetery at Bitburg to honor
the German war dead was re-
vealed, Mr. Reagan declined an
invitation from Kohl to pay a visit
to the site of the Dachau concen-
tration camp because he thought
it would be too depressing to go
there and because he feared if he

You can play that
game with F-15s and
tanks and smart
missiles but not with

did it would extend guilt for the
Holocaust to the present genera-
tions of Germans. He did not wish
to visit the sins of the fathers on
the sons.
Mr. Reagan lived through the
Nazi era and World War II; it is
difficult to understand why he
would assume that there were no
survivors of that era in Germany
today. Nor can we know how de-
eply the struggle against Nazism
involved him. He served out the
war in Hollywood as a captain
making films for the U.S. Air
Force. He certainly never came
face to face in the Battle of the
Bulge with any of the Waffen SS
men who murdered American
prisoners at Malmedy, not too far
from Bitburg. Some of the SS men
who participated in that massacre
may be among the 47 buried in the
Bitburg cemetery.
In the final analysis, it has be-
come irrelevant whether the
President visits Bitburg and hon-
ors the war dead or cancels the
visit in a last-minute attempt at
damage control. What the
President naively conceived as a
gesture of friendship and recon-
ciliation forced both Americans
and Germans to confront the ugly
past and the Nazi record of horror.
A most disturbing feature was
the speed and considerable
unanimity with which the Ger-
mans demonstrated their support
of Chancellor Kohl's insistence
that Mr. Reagan go through with
the Bitburg ceremony and their
backing of the Chancellor's de-
fense of the Waffen SS. An over-
whelming majority in the West
German Bundestag rejected a
resolution calling on the govern-
ment to eliminate the Bitburg
stop from the Reagan itinerary.
Even more disturbing to those
who had fondly dreamed of a new
Germany from which the anti-
Semitism of the past had been
eradicated was the degree of
anger against American Jews.
A West German paper with
more than a million circulation
would not have featured a cover
story on "The Reagan Visit in
Germany: The Power of the Jews"
if its editors did not believe it
would over go over well. The arti-

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