March 18, 1999
Bitburg: "Normalizing" Germany's Nazi Past
Thesis: Reagan's speeches and public statements before, during,
and after his 1985 visit to West Germany demonstrate his misappropriation
of the memories of the Holocaust in order to further his
political agenda. The
events surrounding Bitburg justified survivors'
fears that the memory of
the Holocaust would be desecrated and distorted
after their deaths.
- Willy Brandt 1970 at the Warsaw Ghetto memorial
- D-Day commemoration June 1984
- Mitterand and Kohl
- Planning Begins: November 30, 1984, Kohl visits Reagan
Planning and Preparations:
- January through March 21, 1985 (see quote 1, below)
Opposition and Outcry: April 1985
- Issues - SS, American veterans, Holocaust survivors
- Elie Wiesel (see quotes 2 and 3)
- US Senate and House of Representatives
- Adding Bergen-Belsen
May 5, 1985: visits Bergen-Belsen and Bitburg
- Speeches: content, goals, and effects. (See quotes 4 and 5)
Significance of Bitburg:
- Survivors: What are their goals?
- 1998: West German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
- My research found that Reagan was not an innocent
bumbler into Kohl's nasty trap. He deliberately chose to honor
German soldiers from World War 2 for specific political reasons,
and he chose to ignore the political ramifications of his actions.
- Ronald Reagan, when asked why he decided not to visit a Nazi
concentration camp when visiting Germany, March
"I feel very strongly that this time, in commemorating the
end of that great war, that instead of reawakening the memories
and so forth, and the passions of the time, that maybe we should
observe this day as the day when, 40 years ago, peace began and
friendship, because we now find ourselves allied and friends of
the countries that we once fought against, and that we, it'd be
almost a celebration of the end of an era and the coming into
what has now been some 40 years of peace for us. And I felt that,
since the German people have very few alive that remember even
the war, and certainly none of them who were alive and participating
in any way, and they do, they have a feeling and a guilt feeling
that's been imposed upon them. And I just think it's unnecessary.
I think they should be recognized for the democracy they've created
and the democratic principles they now espouse."
- Ronald Reagan at a later press conference, April 18, 1985:
"I think that there's nothing wrong with visiting that cemetery
where those young men are victims of Nazism also, even though
they were fighting in the German uniform, drafted into service
to carry out the hateful wishes of the Nazis. They were victims,
just as surely as the victims in the concentration camps."
- Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel's speech upon receiving the
Congressional Gold Medal of Achievement at the White House, April 19, 1985:
" . . . I am convinced, as you have told us earlier when
we spoke, that you were not aware of the presence of SS graves
in the Bitburg cemetery. Of course you didn't know. But now
we all are aware. May I, Mr. President, if it's possible at all,
implore you to do something else, to find a way, to find another
way, another site? That place, Mr. President, is not your place.
Your place is with the victims of the SS."
- Reagan at Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, May 5, 1985:
"The survivors carry a memory beyond anything that we can
comprehend. The awful evil started
by one man . . . For year after year, until that man and his evil
were destroyed, hell yawned forth its awful contents. People
were brought here for no other purpose but to suffer and die .
. . because of what happened, death cannot rule forever. We're
here to commemorate that life triumphed over the tragedy and the
death of the Holocaust - overcame the suffering, the sickness,
the testing, and, yes, the gassings . . . We're all witnesses
. . . Never again."
- Reagan at Bitburg Air Base, May 5, 1985:
"Twenty-two years ago President
John F. Kennedy went to the Berlin Wall and proclaimed that
he, too, was a Berliner. Well, today freedom-loving people around
the world must say, I am a Berliner, I am a Jew in a world still
threatened by anti-Semitism, I am an Afghan, and I am a prisoner
of the Gulag, I am a refugee in a crowded boat foundering off
the coast of Vietnam, I am a Laotian, a Cambodian, a Cuban, and
a Miskito Indian in Nicaragua. I, too, an a potential victim