The Kurt Waldheim affair

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KURT Waldheim was born in 1918 and entered the Austrian foreign service in 1945. Waldheim biographies in Who's Who, International Who's Who, and Who's Who in the United Nations give details about the Waldheim career from 1945 on. They say nothing about the fact that, like hundreds of thousands of his Austrian compatriots, he served in the German forces during World War II. Some longer biographies record that he was wounded on the eastern front in 1941. But only this year, when the former Secretary-General of the United Nations became a candidate for the presidency of Austria, did the World Jewish Congress publish material showing that Lieutenant Waldheim returned to active duty in the German Army from March 1942 until the end of the war in 1945.

The same material shows that during these war years he was a staff officer with the German Army group in the Balkans under the command of Gen. Alexander L"ohr. L"ohr was later convicted of war crimes and hanged. The war crimes in the L"ohr case involved the mass deportation of Jews from Salonika to concentration camps elsewhere and the execution of Yugoslav Partisans captured by the Germans during the savage guerrilla war that raged in Yugoslavia during the German occupation there.

It is not a war crime for an Austrian to have served in the German Army in World War II. Austrians either left Austria or automatically became German citizens and liable to conscription for military service. The record shows that Kurt Waldheim's family was opposed to Nazism, but did not flee the country. Waldheim himself was drafted into the German Army when war broke out.

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The fact that war crimes were committed under the L"ohr command does not implicate all soldiers fighting in that command. Deportation of Jews was normally done by SS units, sometimes without the knowledge or cooperation of the regular German Army.

The question of Waldheim guilt or innocence turns on how much he may have known about the war crimes committed under the L"ohr command, and what he might have done about them had he known.

It is a reasonable supposition that officers at the L"ohr Army group headquarters would have been aware that the Jews at Salonika were being deported. It was a routine event. Jews were rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps as the German Army advanced. But knowledge of deportation was not knowledge of ultimate fate.

The liquidation of Jews was ordered by Hitler in May 1942. After that, the dreadful deed was carried out in secrecy. Knowledge of it seeped out gradually. It was not officially confirmed until Allied armies liberated the camps. Junior officers at L"ohr headquarters in 1942 would not have known the ultimate fate of the Jews who were deported from Greece.

Knowledge of the execution of the Partisans was obviously general at the L"ohr command. The Yugoslavs were the first to resist the German occupation. Partisan guerrillas moved in the general civilian population and struck at the Germans by ambush. This was irregular warfare. The execution of prisoners in such situations has been frequent throughout history.

The Yugoslavs have not charged Dr. Waldheim with the execution of Partisans. The Jewish community has not accused Waldheim of participation in the deportation of the Jews from Salonika. Waldheim himself has denied participation in war crimes. There is no public evidence yet to the contrary.

Knowledge of a misdeed is not necessarily complicity. With knowledge he might have protested, or joined an anti-Nazi underground, or fled the country. But like many Austrians, Waldheim did none of these. He served in the German Army to the end of the war.

Waldheim is not a proven or even an accused war criminal. He is guilty of concealing that part of his past which is now an embarrassment to him.

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