Kurt Waldheim

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Kurt Waldheim : biography

21 December 1918 – 14 June 2007

After his term ended in 1992, Waldheim did not seek re-election. The same year, he was made an honorary member of K.H.V. Welfia Klosterneuburg, a Roman Catholic student fraternity a part of the Austrian Cartellverband. In 1994, Pope John Paul II awarded Waldheim a knighthood in the Order of Pius IX and his wife a papal honor.

He died on 14 June 2007, from heart failure. On 23 June, his funeral was held at St. Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna, and he was buried at the Presidential Vault in the Zentralfriedhof ("central cemetery")., Associated Press (International Herald Tribune), 23 June 2007. 

In his speech at the Cathedral, Federal President Heinz Fischer called Waldheim "a great Austrian" who had been wrongfully accused of having committed war crimes. Fischer also praised Waldheim for his efforts to solve international crises and for his contributions to world peace.http://www.hofburg.at/show_content2.php?s2id=855 Speech of President Heinz Fischer (official text) At Waldheim’s own request, no foreign heads of states or governments were invited to attend his funeral except Hans-Adam II, the Prince of Liechtenstein. Also present was Luis Durnwalder, governor of the Italian province of South Tyrol. Syria and Japan were the only two countries that laid a wreath. In a two-page letter, published posthumously by the Austrian Press Agency the day after he died, Waldheim admitted making "mistakes" ("but these were certainly not those of a follower let alone an accomplice of a criminal regime") and asked his critics for forgiveness.http://activepaper.tele.net/vntipps/WaldheimVermaechtnis.pdf

Presidency of Austria

Election and Waldheim Affair

Waldheim had unsuccessfully sought election as President of Austria in 1971, but his second attempt on 8 June 1986 proved successful. During his campaign for the presidency in 1985, the events started that marked the beginning of what became known internationally as the "Waldheim Affair". Before the presidential elections, investigative journalist Alfred Worm revealed in the Austrian weekly news magazine Profil that there had been several omissions about Waldheim’s life between 1938 and 1945 in his recently published autobiography.

A short time later, the World Jewish Congress alleged that Waldheim had lied about his service as an officer in the mounted corps of the SA, and his time as an ordnance officer for Army Group E in Saloniki, Greece, from 1942 to 1943 based in files from the United Nations War Crimes Commission.See Section "Military Service" above Waldheim called the allegations "pure lies and malicious acts".

Nevertheless he admitted that he had known about German reprisals against partisans: "Yes, I knew. I was horrified. But what could I do? I had either to continue to serve or be executed." He said that he had never fired a shot or even seen a partisan. His former immediate superior at the time stated that Waldheim had "remained confined to a desk". Former Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky, of Jewish origin, denounced the actions of the World Jewish Congress as an "extraordinary infamy" adding that Austrians would not "allow the Jews abroad to ... tell us who should be our President." 

Part of the reason for the controversy was Austria’s refusal to address its national role in the Holocaust (many including Adolf Hitler were Austrians and Austria became part of the Third Reich). Austria refused to pay compensation to Nazi victims and from 1970 onwards refused to investigate Austrian citizens who were senior Nazis.Efraim Zuroff, "Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals, 2001–2002," Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jerusalem (April 2002). Stolen Jewish art remained public property until after the Waldheim affair.http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,545392,00.html

Because the revelations leading to the Waldheim affair came shortly before the presidential election, there has been speculation about the background of the affair.