From the S&S archives: Reagan, Kohl take 'painful walk into the past'
May 7, 1985
BERGEN-BELSEN, Germany — In an emotional gesture of reconciliation, President Reagan and Chancellor Helmut Kohl recalled the most monstrous acts of World War II Sunday and told citizens of the United States and West German "the horror cannot outlast the hope."
"We are struck by the horror of it all — the monstrous, incomprehensible horror," Reagan said in remarks prepared for delivery at the site of the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Both leaders' remarks were made to television audiences in both countries.
Kohl, in his prepared remarks at Bergen-Belsen, said: "We bow in sorrow before the victims of murder and genocide.
"The supreme goal of our political efforts is to render impossible any repetition of that systematic destruction of human life and dignity."
Reagan said his visit was "a painful walk into the past" and "no one of the rest of us can fully understand the enormity of the feelings carried by the victims of these camps."
While hundreds of Jews and others protested outside, Reagan briefly toured the former Nazi concentration camp, where thousands of bodies are buried under a huge mound of heather-blanketed earth.
He then laid a wreath at the foot of an obelisk memorial to the dead and paused for a minute of silent tribute.
"We are here because humanity refuses to accept that freedom or the spirit of man can ever be extinguished," Reagan said. "We are 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."
Reagan. who was accompanied by his wife, Nancy, Kohl and Kohl's wife, Hannelore, addressed an audience of German officials and a few Americans living in Germany.
German Jews boycotted the ceremony because of Reagan's plans to visit a German military cemetery in Bitburg where 49 members of the Nazi Waffen SS are buried.
However, Jitzhak Ben Ari, Israeli ambassador to West Germany, did attend the ceremony "because I believe a new Germany can be trusted."
Moniek Cukier, a Polish-born German Jew who works as a meat cutter for the U.S. Army in Kaiserslautern, also attended.
A survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, Cukier said he came because "the war is over. We've got to forget sometime."
Other invited Jews, however, stayed away to protest Reagan's Bitburg cemetery visit. They were expected to come to the camp after Reagan left to conduct a private memorial service.
Hundreds of police lined the road into the camp and prevented Jewish and young German protesters from entering. One sign waved by the crowd, and addressed to Reagan, said, "We'll reserve a grave for you in Bitburg."
Reagan made the controversial trip slightly more than 40 years after the camp was liberated by the British on April 15, 1945. Bergen-Belsen was not intended to be an extermination camp, but thousands of prisoners died from starvation and epidemics.
The British burned the camp in May 1945 to stop the spread of disease.
Reagan condemned Nazi atrocities during his speech, but he also stressed the life and hope that "triumphed over the tragedy."
He placed blame for concentration camp horrors on "the awful evil started by one man," a reference to Adolf Hitler, and praised Kohl and the German people for condemning the Nazi regime.
"Chancellor Kohl, you and your countrymen have made real the renewal that had to happen," Reagan said. "Your nation and the German people have been strong and resolute in your willingness to confront and condemn the acts of a hated regime of the past."