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The Waldheim File

Photographs show that, while he was at Podgorica, he attended staff strategy sessions for implementing Operation Black, a brutal and effective sweep against partisans in Montenegro. Notations in the daily war book that he kept in Athens indicate his knowledge and transmission of orders for the killing of “bandits” captured in battle and the deportation of male civilians. His intelligence work on enemy movements throughout Army Group E’s area of responsibility in Greece was an important factor in determining its plans, and the WJC report presents evidence to show that there was a close correlation between his reports on partisan activity and the devastating reprisal measures by German forces at Iráklion, Stip, and Kocane in August 1944.

On the basis of this record, can one describe Kurt Waldheim as a war criminal? It is entirely understandable that the Yugoslav War Crimes Commission should have done so in 1947; one may surmise that its list was fairly indiscriminate and included a high percentage of the German officers known to have served in the Balkans. It is impossible to say how rigorous the United Nations War Crime Commission’s review of the Yugoslav evidence was before it placed Waldheim’s name on its list of suspected war criminals in 1948 or whether the US Army conducted an independent investigation before putting it on its own wanted list later in the year. Nor has it been made clear just what information about Waldheim’s Nazi past was taken into account by the nations, including the US and the USSR, that supported his candidacy for secretary general of the United Nations in 1971.

More recently, in April of this year, Mr. Waldheim’s predecessor as president of Austria, Rudolf Kirchschläger, reviewed the United Nations file and other documents submitted to him by the WJC and concluded that they would not support prosecution on war-crimes charges, although he added that, despite Mr. Waldheim’s disclaimers, he must have known about the reprisals against the partisans. “What conclusions you draw for the presidential election,” Mr. Kirchschläger told the Austrian people in his television report, “must be left to you.” This is obviously not good enough for the WJC, which insists that the evidence already at hand warrants a thorough investigation by the Austrian government to determine the extent of Mr. Waldheim’s complicity in Nazi atrocities.

One of the most puzzling aspects of the case is why Mr. Waldheim tried to obscure the truth about three years of his life and why, when the real picture began to emerge, he didn’t make a clean breast of things. Even his friends must have been dismayed by the way in which he clung stubbornly to his original story, admitting, as a German reporter pointed out, “at every stage only what could be proved against him” and, even then, depreciating the importance of his admission. The WJC report quotes Allan A. Ryan, Jr., former director of the US Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, as saying, “What has disturbed me…are Waldheim’s responses to the allegations against him. The pattern is startlingly similar to those of dozens of Nazi criminals that the Justice Department has prosecuted in the last halfdozen years”—a pattern, the WJC report adds, marked by such things as “the flat and false denial,” “the wrong placewrong time disclaimer,” “the claim that appearance was not reality,” naive professions of ignorance of well-known events, and dismissal of evidence on the grounds that it is merely part of a campaign of slander. In his television speech, President Kirchschläger intimated that many Austrians would find it difficult to forget Mr. Waldheim’s twistings and turnings, and, indeed, public recollection of this behavior will be heavy ballast with which to begin his presidential flight.

Not much has been written during this confused affair about Mr. Waldheim’s doctoral dissertation, which is perhaps understandable because, as dissertations go, it is not very impressive. Before his life story was so radically corrected, Mr. Waldheim claimed that he had worked on it from the early part of 1942 until its acceptance late in 1944 and that, during this time, he had to overcome problems caused by the wartime dispersion of library holdings, which made it difficult for him to find the books and documents that he needed. But the completed dissertation, which is entitled The Idea of the Reich in Konstantin Frantz, cites no documentary materials and, aside from the books and pamphlets of its subject, lists only ten secondary works as sources, only two of which are mentioned in the footnotes. This and the work’s brevity (ninety-four typescript pages), and the fact that it is a summary rather than an analysis of Frantz’s thought and lacks any comparative dimension, indicate that it was a rush job, largely accomplished, in all probability, during the three months of leave that followed Waldheim’s service in Bosnia.

Even so, it is not uninteresting. Konstantin Frantz was an independent and outspoken German publicist who, at the height of the national enthusiasm over Bismarck’s unification of Germany in 1987, rejected the new creation on the grounds that it had been constituted in such a way as to deprive Germany of the psychological conditions for healthy development. Surely, he wrote, a land

containing as many different elements as Germany, a country entwined with its neighbors on all sides and bordering on six different nationalities, a country that has experienced a history comparable to no other in respect both of the variety of political forms created and the intrinsic importance of its events, must necessarily have achieved a constitution peculiar to itself.

Instead, Germany had had imposed upon it a narrow national framework and a constitution based on foreign models, which would encourage the spread of liberalism, individualism, materialism, and socialism, all destructive of the age-old German sense of community.

Germany’s true destiny, Frantz wrote, lay in the creation of a new Reich, the philosophical basis of which would be a political-religious-ethical federalism that reconciled freedom with community, diversity with common purpose, and historical continuity with the demands of the present, and whose political foundation would be a Bund comprising the lands that had belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, joined together with a wider union that would include the eastern provinces of Prussia and the Austrian Empire and, in due course, Switzerland and the Low Countries. This Reich would be animated by the old German mission in the east: the duty of protecting Western civilization by colonizing the Slav lands and erecting a barrier against the threat of Russia. But beyond that it must strive to break out into the Atlantic by way of the North Sea ports and, through the destruction of the Turkish Empire, to extend its influence to the Black Sea.

These, however, were remote tasks. The immediate objective was to create a Reich in central Europe that would transcend national perspectives and limitations, a Völkergemeinschaft (“community of peoples”) in which the great and small would have common political and cultural purposes, but in which the German core, animated by an “idealistic Realpolitik,” would be “the carrier and vital center of European development,” and the guarantor of international peace. Frantz was, in short, a curious combination of system-builder and imperialist, torn between his belief in the ability of federal systems to alleviate the friction and conflict of contemporary international relations and the vision of a new German Weltpolitik more grandiose than that propounded earlier by Friedrich List.

All of this Kurt Waldheim spread forth in his dissertation, without accompanying his exposition with any critical comment of his own. The WJC report has quoted a reference in the dissertation’s conclusion to “the current great conflict of the Reich with the non-European world” and the “magnificent collaboration of all the peoples of Europe under the leadership of the Reich…against the danger from the east,” presumably as evidence of the intensity of Waldheim’s pro-Nazi sentiments. But the reference to these events, which Waldheim mildly says shows the continued relevance of Frantz’s writings, was the sort of thing that was surely common and expected in dissertations submitted to a Nazified university in the middle of the war, and it was probably, in any case, intended, in case he was one of the dissertation’s readers, to please Heinrich Ritter von Srbik, the reigning star among Austrian historians at that time and the promoter of a new historiography based upon the Reichsidee, which he believed was being realized in the policy of Adolf Hitler.

In this connection, it is what Waldheim excluded from his dissertation that is intriguing. Konstantin Frantz was a rabid anti-Semite, who expressed his outrage over the fact that Berlin was the capital of the German Empire by writing:

If a visitor to the baths in Reichenhall could scribble on the wall Gott! wie schön ist’s doch hienieden./ Wo man hinspuckt—lauter Jüden,1 so could any visitor to the imperial capital write the same in his diary.

In his book on federalism, Frantz argued that the Jews represented the most serious threat to the political and economic stability and the moral integrity of the Western world and that the first task of the new Reich must be to solve the Jewish question. How this was to be done, he did not spell out in any detail, although he did say that an indispensable first step would be a reversal of the process of emancipation and the revocation of all legislation that had assured Jews of civil equality and that, in effecting this, one must dispense with “all talk of humanity and enlightenment.”

Although his dissertation was in large part an exposition of the contents of Frantz’s Der Föderalismus, Waldheim did not mention any of its anti-Semitic arguments, although he might have commended himself to some of his readers by doing so. We can only speculate about his reasons, but it is not impossible (why not give him the benefit of the doubt?) that he found those parts of Frantz’s work both distasteful and irrational, whereas, on the other hand, he was fascinated, as the second part of his dissertation shows, by what Frantz had to say about the possibility of a federal political structure creating not only new forms of law but a new international consciousness.

If there is anything in this, then we may detect a tenuous connection between Waldheim’s dissertation and his memoir In the Eye of the Storm, which is largely an account of his ten years as secretary general of the United Nations. Here he describes the attempts of an imperfect and often maligned federal system, formed, as he writes, “when the peoples and governments of the world, still reeling from the shock of World War II, were…prepared to yield up certain parts of their sovereignty in favor of an international organization,” to extend the recognition of law and the consciousness of community in a world endangered by the hypernationalism of the former colonial nations and the doom-laden rivalry of the weapons-obsessed superpowers. Something of Konstantin Frantz’s idea of the centrality of the Völkergemeinschaft echoes in Waldheim’s reminder that “the Charter of the United Nations specifically talks of ‘people’ and not of governments…. More clearly than ever before, the people—regardless of frontiers—will have to make it clear that they do not want preparations for war but designs for peace.”

In the Eye of the Storm is an intelligent and informative book and, in its criticism of American attitudes toward the United Nations and of the Reagan administration’s decision to leave UNESCO, persuasive. But in view of the revelations made during Waldheim’s campaign for the Austrian presidency, what may be most striking to its readers is the persistent deficiency of its author’s memory, here evidenced not only in the absence from his account of his early life of any reference to his military service in the Balkans, but in his failure to mention that, when he was foreign minister during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, he ordered his envoy in Prague to close the Austrian mission to Czech subjects seeking asylum and to expel those already in the building, although this order was contrary to previous practice and was, for that reason, disobeyed. Whether Waldheim’s behavior on this occasion was prompted by a desire to forestall embarrassing Soviet disclosures about earlier activities on his part and whether it assured him, later on, of Soviet support for his candidacy of the secretary general’s post (which was given promptly and almost insistently) are intriguing questions but must remain conjectural.

Meanwhile, Kurt Waldheim has gone on to greater things, although there may be problems ahead. In April, the US Department of Justice’s Office of Special Prosecutions recommended to Attorney General Edwin Meese III that he be barred permanently from this country on the basis of a federal statute that applies to persons who, in association with the Nazi government of Germany, persecuted others. This may be an augury of trouble for Austria’s future relations with other states, although Shimon Peres was probably right in saying recently, “Austria’s problem is its relations with itself.”


Waldheim’s Austria February 26, 1987

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    God! how beautiful the view! Where e’er you chance to spit—a Jew!

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