President Reagan said today that he is determined to visit a West German military cemetery where Nazi SS troopers are buried despite a worldwide outcry because it is “morally right to do so.”
On the eve of his 10-day European trip, Reagan also told a group of foreign correspondents in an interview televised live in Europe that those buried in the Bitburg cemetery have “long in a sense met the supreme judgment of right and wrong.”
“The final word has been said as far as I’m concerned,” Reagan said when asked about the “trauma” of his decision on survivors of the Holocaust and others who were affected by World War II.
“I think I’m morally right to do so and I’m not going to change my mind,” he declared.
Cites Own War Record
“Yes, I know all the bad things that happened in that war. . . . I was in uniform myself for four years,” said Reagan, who never saw combat during World War II while serving in the first motion picture unit of the Army Air Corps.
“But as I said to my friends all of those who are buried in that cemetery have long since met the supreme judgment of right and wrong. Whatever punishment or justice is needed has been rendered by one who is above us all.”
Reagan earlier told White House reporters that former President Richard M. Nixon approved of his decision.
The President said that “private polls” conducted by the White House indicated that the opposition to his decision to go to Bitburg was not “that great.”
Poll Finds Opposition
A Gallup survey published by Newsweek Sunday found 55% of Americans questioned opposed Reagan’s visiting Bitburg, where a few dozen members of Hitler’s elite SS are buried, while 36% supported the plan.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said there was “no change in plans” for laying a wreath Sunday at the cemetery.
Reagan is clearly annoyed that attention being paid to the 10-day trip, during which he plans to give four major speeches, is focusing on the brief ceremony planned at the cemetery.
Reagan blamed the media for “some of the distortions” surrounding the trip, and said that he had misunderstood the invitation from West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to also visit a concentration camp, thinking he would be accused of “going off on my own.”
To Tour Death Camp
Before going to Bitburg, the President will tour the Bergen-Belsen death camp--a stop added after the public uproar over his decision to visit Bitburg--and will speak briefly.
“I understand how some people feel,” he said in the foreign television interview, but he added that he wanted his visit to be a gesture of reconciliation to recognize that 40 years after the war Germany is a democratic nation and an allied partner.
“We want to make it plain that it should never have happened and there must never be anything like the Holocaust again. This is a time for reconciliation after years and years,” he said.
Asked whether Nixon urged him to stand firm on his decision that has evoked widespread criticism in the House and Senate, and among Jewish and veterans groups, Reagan said that Nixon “approved of it.”