Secret UN file accuses Waldheim of war crimes in Yugoslavia

A secret file from the UN War Crimes Commission on Kurt Waldheim accuses the former UN Secretary-General of war crimes in Yugoslavia, including ``murder, shooting of hostages, and ravaging of property,'' according to sources familiar with the file. The controversial document, which was handed over to the governments of the United States, Austria, and Israel last week, reportedly summarizes a Dec. 25, 1947, report of the Yugoslav War Crimes Commission that accuses then German Army Lieutenant Waldheim of involvement in the burning of Yugoslav villages in the area of Stip and Kocani in October 1944. The sources were unable to shed light on whether the file incorporated allegations published in the Yugoslav press that Dr. Waldheim participated in the large-scale killings of Yugoslavian Partisans by his Army unit in the Kozara mountains in 1942.

Waldheim, who delivered his written comments on the file to Austrian President Rudolf Kirchschl"ager yesterday, has steadfastly denied any involvement in Nazi war crimes. In a weekend interview with the CBS ``60 Minutes'' news program, Dr. Waldheim said, ``there is nothing behind those allegations in those files.'' But, after earlier statements that he had left the German Army after being wounded in December 1941, Waldheim has recently conceded that he did serve in Greece and Yugoslavia from 1942 to 1945.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's permanent representative to the UN, told journalists after examining the file, that there was a ``clear need for further comprehensive investigation. . . On the basis of this file, there is no way this matter can be put to rest.'' He would not discuss the file's contents.

The United States government, which received a copy of the file Friday, likewise refused to discuss its contents, as did the representative of Austria. But, according to an Austrian spokesmen, if President Kirchschl"ager or Waldheim believe that the public should be informed of its contents, they will request UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar to lift its confidentiality. Waldheim's file, No. 79/724, is one of 40,000 sealed files on war criminals, suspects, and witnesses compiled by the UN War Crimes Commission between 1943 and 1948. All are considered secret, and are made available only to governments when a specific request is made.

Stunned UN officials who worked with or for Waldheim during the 10 years he was Secretary-General (1971-81) say that, although the file raises serious questions about his war record in the Balkans, it offers no conclusive proof of the many charges that have surfaced during the past five weeks that he is guilty of wartime atrocities in Yugoslavia and Greece.

But according to one UN official, Waldheim's file is marked with an ``A,'' the designation for war criminals -- not suspects or witnesses. Ironically, the file remained undetected in the locked UN archives for nearly 40 years, including the time that Waldheim himself would have had access to it. It only came to public notice during the peak of Austria's presidential campaign for the May 4 election. Waldheim is a leading contender.

According to Gerhard Waldheim, who is in the US to defend his father's record, the 1947 Yugoslav report was based on the testimony of two biased, unreliable German prisoners of war. They were held in Yugoslavia and had served under Waldheim, the report said.

One, named Egbert Hilcer and identified as an executed war criminal, never served with Waldheim's unit, according to his son. The second, Johan Mayer, who died in 1972, was, according to the younger Waldheim, an unreliable criminal convicted five times in Austria who had reportedly told friends that he gave false testimony on Waldheim in order to improve his conditions in the prisoner-of-war camp. In the ``60 Minutes'' interview Dr. Waldheim corroborated what his son had said, saying the report of the Yugoslav War Crimes Commission was based on the statements of two German prisoners of war in Yugoslavia who wanted to ``save their skins.''

In a 13-page memorandum that was sent to the US Justice department and to Secretary-General P'erez de Cu'ellar, Dr. Waldheim claims that he was stationed elsewhere when the Army units to which he was attached carried out massacres in Yugoslavia and interrogated and sent to Auschwitz tens of thousands of Jews from Salonica and northern Greece.

The Justice Department's office of special investigations sought Waldheim's file to determine whether or not he should be barred in future from entering the US. Under a 1978 amendment to the US immigration law, anyone who assisted the Nazis in persecuting people because of their race, religion, national origin, or political opinions can be denied a visa or deported.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Secret UN file accuses Waldheim of war crimes in Yugoslavia
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today