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May

05

1985

May 05, 1985



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Diary Entry - 05/05/1985

Sunday, May 5, 1985

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Dawns the day the world has been hearing about for weeks. By 9 A.M. we were on our way to Konrad Adenauers grave site with the Kohls—our wives put flowers on the grave. The press had only been given an hours notice on this. We didn’t want them claiming we were doing it to soften the criticism on Bitberg.

From there we helicoptered to Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp. This was an emotional experience. We went through the small museum with the enlarged photos of the horrors there. Then we walked past the mounds planted with Heather each being a mass grave for 5000 or more of the people largely Jews but also many Christians, a number of Catholic Priests & Gypsys who had been slaughtered there or who were just starved to death. Here I made the speech I hoped would refute the phony charges that had been made. I declared we must not forget & we must pledge, “never again.”

Before the day was out there were reports that my talk had been effective. It was carried live on German T.V. and elsewhere in Europe.

Next stop later in the afternoon was Bitberg. Here the people were jamming the streets—most friendly but some demonstrators. We went to the cemetery & met Gen. Ridgeway—91 yrs. old—last surviving top W.W. II leader in Am. & Gen. Steinhoff, a German General who had been shot down in flames & whose face had been rebuilt by an American Army Dr. at wars end. Kohl & I and the Gen’s. walked thru the tiny cemetery & then at a monument there the Gen’s. placed wreaths. The German “taps” was played & then in a truly dramatic moment the 2 Generals clasped hands. There had been no leak to the press that the Generals would be there.

Then we motored to the Air base where both German & American units are based. There were several thousand people—families of the military plus a number of citizens of Bitberg—the Mayor, City Council et al. The German mil. band played our Nat. Anthem—then the Am. band played theirs. My speech was sort of a sequel to the one at Belson. It was enthusiastically received and our people thought it turned the issue around. I felt very good. I was told later that during my speech—the 2 Generals sat—holding each others hands. General Ridgeway & his wife returned to Bonn with us on A.F.1.

Back in Schloss Gymnich we got done up for the White tie State dinner at Schloss Augustusberg. There was a small reception then into dinner. After dinner there was a half hour entertainment—Chamber music.

Well this was the day—everyone—well not everyone but much of the press had predicted would be a disaster. Dick Wirthlin did some before the day & after polling. Before the trip 49% said I should go to Bitberg, 47% said no—4% undecided. After the trip 59% said I should, 38% said no & 13% were undecided.

I always felt it was the morally right thing to do.