The Waldheim File

Hitler and the Forgotten Nazis: A History of Austrian National Socialism

by Bruce F. Pauley
University of North Carolina Press, 292 pp., $21.00

Hitler’s Hometown: Linz, Austria, 1908-1945

by Evan Burr Bukey
Indiana University Press, 288 pp., $25.00

Kurt Waldheim’s Hidden Past: An Interim Report to the President, World Jewish Congress

World Jewish Congress (June 2, 1986)

Die Reichsidee bei Konstantin Frantz Staatswissenschaftlichen Fakultät der Universität Wien (1944) (Courtesy of Simon Wiesenthal Center.)

by Kurt Waldheim
Inaugural-Dissertation zur Erlangung des Doktorgrades der Rechts- und

In the Eye of the Storm: A Memoir

by Kurt Waldheim
Adler and Adler, 278 pp., $17.95

In October 1943, the foreign ministers of Great Britain and the Soviet Union and the secretary of state of the United States of America met in Moscow to discuss a variety of territorial and other problems that would arise at the war’s end. In the course of these talks, they touched briefly on the future disposition of Austria, which had since 1938 been an integral part of the Great German Reich, and agreed without difficulty that—as their communiqué stated later—“Austria, the first free country to fall victim to Hitlerite aggression, shall be liberated from German domination.”

For Austria, the Moscow declaration was what the Germans call, after the soap powder, a Persilschein or certificate of purity, automatically absolving it from disabilities and punishments that would befall countries that were not “liberated” but designated as former enemies. Why the Big Three foreign ministers were so generous is still puzzling. A senior member of the US Foreign Service once suggested, not entirely frivolously, that it was because President Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill had spent happy summers in their youth rolling down Austria’s lush hills in lederhosen and were privately agreed that the Austrians were a jolly people who deserved much better treatment than the awful Germans. Others have wondered whether bad conscience was not at play, the Western Allies remembering that they had not lifted a finger to prevent the Anschluss in 1938 and had given de jure recognition to the new regime with altogether unseemly haste. The most likely explanation is that the foreign ministers were distracted by other problems (the war was far from being won, and the Soviet representative, Mr. Molotov, for example, seemed to harbor suspicions that his allies might be willing to allow Germany to keep some of its territorial gains as the price of peace) and that they were not fully aware of the implications of their declaration or concerned about its historical accuracy.

At the very least, their declaration was loosely phrased. Austria had, of course, been a sovereign state until Hitler’s tanks rolled into Vienna in March 1938, but that it had been free in any wider sense is more than questionable, in view of the fact that as early as 1934 the so-called Mini-Metternich, Engelbert Dollfuss, had revoked its democratic constitution, abolished parliamentary government, and established an authoritarian fascist state, and the further fact that his successor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, had not only continued this new order but used it to keep thousands of political dissidents in concentration camps.

Whether Austria could be described accurately as a victim of Hitlerite aggression was even more doubtful. The desire for union (Anschluss) with its northern neighbor was almost general in the country after 1918, and although this ceased to be true in the parties of the left after Hitler took power in Germany in January 1933, that event increased the passion for Anschluss in Austria as a whole. Its most unequivocal advocate was the Austrian National Socialist party, and …

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Letters

Waldheim’s Austria February 26, 1987