Bitburg Mayor Says Town May Ask Reagan, Kohl Not To Come
BONN, West Germany (AP) _ The mayor of Bitburg, dismayed by the furor over next month’s state visit from President Reagan and Chancellor Helmut Kohl to the nearby military cemetery, said the town may cancel the visit.
Bitburg’s euphoria at the prospect of the visit, planned as a symbol of reconciliation between the two World War II enemies, has turned to disappointment with the international criticism heaped on both Reagan and Kohl for their choice of a commemoration site.
Mayor Theo Hallet, who twice in the past two weeks had written to the U.S. ambassador urging that the visit not be cancelled, said Friday that that may be done by the citizens themselves, who are ″scandalized and dismayed.″
″Our people find unbearable the gushing forth of abuse and slander on our city, and especially on the soldiers lying in the cemetery,″ Hallet said in an interview with ZDF Television’s feature show ″Tele-Illustrier te.″
″If it continues like this, then it would be better if we would cancel ourselves the visit of the American president and our chancellor,″ the mayor said.
Reagan planned to lay a wreath May 5 at the cemetery where thousands of German soldiers from two world wars are buried. Two-thousand of the graves contain the bodies of soldiers who fought in the 1944 Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the war, in which 19,000 Americans were killed. There are also 49 graves of combat soldiers from the Nazi SS, local officials have said.
Hallet said the dispute over the SS graves offended the citizens of his community near the Luxembourg border, whose 25,000 residents include 11,000 Americans attached to a nearby U.S. air base.
″It is impossible, it is unbearable, to want to de-Nazify and X-ray the dead, fallen soldiers who have slept for 40 years under the earth,″ Hallet said. He is a member of Kohl’s Christian Democrat party and served on the Russian front during the war.
Hallet, 63, said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that American, French and West German military officers from the area have held a memorial service at the cemetery every November since 1959.
American veterans’ groups, Jews, prosecutors of Nazi war criminals, the Dutch parliament, and both houses of the U. S. Congress have urged Reagan not to go to Bitburg and many people have asked Kohl to withdraw the invitation for the cemetery visit.
It was at Kohl’s suggestion that the Bitburg stop was placed on the agenda for Reagan’s May 1-6 visit, which coincides with a Western economic summit. When the international criticism began, a ceremony at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp run by the Nazis was added to the presidential itinerary. But the controversy has not died down.
In Washington, the U.S. Senate adopted a resolution by voice vote Friday urging Reagan not to go to Bitburg. It was sponsored by 78 senators and came a day after 257 members of the House of Representatives wrotes to Kohl urging that the visit be canceled.
Peter Boenisch, a spokesman for the West German government, said there are no plans to cancel, and that the letter from the U.S. congressmen would be answered with a copy of Kohl’s speech Thursday before Parliament, which voted 398-24 against withdrawing the Bitburg invitation.
″Just as we take the letter of Congress seriously, the Congress must take the vote of the West German Bundestag seriously,″ he said.
Meanwhile, a weekly West German magazine published an article discussing the controversy over the trip in the context of what it called America’s ″legendary Jewish lobby.″
″How can 6 million American Jews control 209 million non-Jewish Americans?″ the weekly Quick magazine said.
Officials at the Munich-based Heinrich Bauer Publishing House, which produces the magazine, said it was a non-political, non-ideological journal that deals with current themes oriented toward a women’s audience.