Ronald Reagan, in letters to a Holocaust survivor, offers a new explanation for his controversial visit to Germany's Bitburg cemetery - some of the SS men buried there were executed for trying to save concentration camp victims.

The three letters written in 1989 to World Jewish Congress vice president Kalman Sultanik, a survivor of two camps and a Nazi death march, were released by the WJC on Friday and constitute one of Reagan's strongest defenses of the 1985 visit.In the letters, including one written in his own hand, the former president admitted that his belief could not be backed up with documentary evidence. He said his information came from German officials.

Few events in the Reagan presidency stirred as much debate as the Bitburg visit, with Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel telling Reagan in a dramatic White House encounter: "That place, Mr. President, is not your place. Your place is with the victims of the SS."

Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, in his new book "President Reagan: the Role of a Lifetime," said that after the visit Reagan never recaptured the moral high ground and lost the trust of the U.S. Jewish community.

In his first letter to Sultanik, Reagan said his German visit was arranged so that he could see the death camps and "the museum-like displays of photos of the worst atrocities of the time . . . .

"As for Bitburg itself, I did some research on my own and learned that, yes, there were SS troopers buried there, but a number of them were buried in prison uniform. They had been executed for trying to shield inmates from torture and the ovens."

After Sultanik wrote saying there was no evidence for that assertion, Reagan responded, saying, "German officials having to do with my visit were the source . . . ."