Each weekday morning, like thousands of other Austrians, he goes to work in Vienna’s ancient inner city. Each night he returns to his home in the suburbs and seldom goes out. On weekends he likes to walk on the grounds of his country home on the Lake of Attersee, near Salzburg, or entertain friends in the rambling villa on Vienna’s outskirts that is his official residence. In the routine of Austria’s President Kurt Waldheim, there is little outward evidence of the mounting domestic and international pressure on him to resign.
Atrocities: The furore surrounding the gaunt, 69-year-old Waldheim is without parallel in modern international affairs. He stands publicly revealed as having lied repeatedly about his wartime service in the Wehrmacht. And a commission of historians investigating Waldheim’s past reported last month that, although there was no evidence that he committed war crimes himself, he knew about Nazi atrocities in the Balkans— and, indeed, facilitated them. Still, Waldheim scorns his critics, defends his record and stubbornly clings to office. Responding to the historians’ re-
port, he acknowledged in a televised address that he had known about the atrocities but that “knowledge is not crime.” He added that he “certainly did no more than was necessary to survive the war.”
Surviving the present crisis may be more difficult. Even Waldheim’s wife, Liselotte, has come under attack. In a London radio interview earlier this month British Conservative MP Robert Rhodes James said that she had been “a dedicated Nazi.” James—a historian who was an aide to Waldheim at the United Nations —added that Liselotte played a key role in Waldheim’s career and “in the coverup and the lies that now have been exposed,” and that she knew “all about his war record.”
Allegations: In fact, Waldheim’s wife had something of a war record of her own, according to the Austrian magazine Forum. Last year the magazine published an article that recounted an episode one day in September, 1939—after the Nazi invasion of Poland—when Liselotte’s teacher announced to the class in Vienna that the girl would be granted a school-leaving certificate because “she has volunteered for important duty in the East.”
Those certificates, Forum said, were granted only to those who volunteered for so-called special services.
They included the nursing staff known as “the Brown Sisters,” whose tasks involved taking care of Polish children whom the Nazis considered physically suitable for improving their race.
The children were taken from their parents and placed in special institutions in Germany to be brought up as Germans.
Forum reported that Liselotte Waldheim’s lawyer refused to say where the 17-year-old had been between September, 1939, and February, 1940, when she returned to Austria. He also said that she relinquished her Nazi party membership in 1943, when she and Waldheim became engaged. Their subsequent marriage produced three children —Liselotte, 42,
Gerhardt, 35, and Christa,
29—and three grandchildren. Observers said that Christa, who headed her father’s election staff, burst into tears when he became enraged over fresh allegations about his past. But the campaign had a happy side for her: she met and married Otmar Karas, the chairman of Austria’s Young Conservatives.
According to friends, Liselotte Waldheim likes to be called “Sissy.” But during Waldheim’s two terms as UN secretary general, from 1972 to 1982, staffers nicknamed her “Lady Waldheim” because of her erect bearing and haughty manner. She appears to have lost neither characteristic: after her husband came under attack for concealing his war record, she said publicly that she would regard his resignation as a “betrayal.”
Reclusive: Critics have also attacked the Waldheims’ presidential style. After the president opened last summer’s world-renowned Salzburg music festival, the city council had to pay a number of unexpected bills—including one for $1,200 worth of flowers that the Waldheims had ordered for the rooms that the city provided for them. As well, the Waldheims spent an estimated $100,000 on renovating their official residence. Wrote the Viennese weekly Die Ganze Woche: “Waldheim is the most expensive president in the history of the Second Republic.”
He is also one of the most reclusive.
He and his wife rarely go out in the evenings and they have limited their public appearances to official functions. One of the few regular visitors to the official residence is former foreign minister Karl Gruber, who hired Waldheim as his secretary in 1946 and is still widely regarded as a close friend and mentor. In a reference to the leg wound Waldheim suffered while serving with the German army on the Russian front in 1941, Gruber once said: “I must have heard the story 500 times. I had to tell him to shut up about it.”
Wounded: That wound plays a pivotal part in Waldheim’s personal history. In his 1985 autobiography, prophetically entitled In the Eye of the Storm: a Memoir, Waldheim says that when war broke out in 1939, like thousands of other young Austrians, he was drafted into the German army. In 1941 he was wounded on the Russian front and, by his account, discharged and permitted to resume his law studies in 1942 in Vienna, where he married Liselotte in 1944
and stayed until the end of the war.
But since 1986, documents have surfaced showing that during the years he claimed to have been in Vienna, Waldheim was still in the army and serving in the Balkans. Those documents disclose that he recovered quickly and on March 14, 1942, he was posted to German army command headquarters in Salonika, Greece, with the rank of lieutenant.
Medal: Waldheim spent time in Yugoslavia between March and July, 1942, during the massacre of thousands of Serbs and Jews by the Germans and the Ustasha, their Croatian puppets. The Croatians awarded Waldheim the Zvonimir Medal with oak clusters on July 22, 1942. Waldheim claimed that he was an interpreter and such medals were routinely distributed to “low-ranking officers.” However, the medal was for “merit under fire,” and of the 22,000 German troops in the campaign, only three—including Waldheim—got one.
Waldheim was later based near Salonika, where 46,000 Jews were de-
ported to the Auschwitz extermination camp in 1943. By the end of that year Waldheim was the thirdranking officer in the headquarters intelligence department and, says historian Hagen Fleischer, “was the best-informed officer of the Wehrmacht in Greece at the end of the occupation in 1944.” But Waldheim claimed that he knew nothing about the deportation of Jews.
Execution: Disclosures about Waldheim’s past continue to emerge. The latest, reported only last week: the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency wants to release a 1945 British army report naming Waldheim as a wanted German intelligence officer, but cannot do so without British permission. They have so far refused, saying that the o document is part of an 5 investigation to deterImine whether Waldig heim was involved in ¿the 1944 execution of |six captured British y commandos.
In many ways, Waldheim is an obscure man. But Sir Brian Urquhart, a former UN undersecretary-general who worked for him, clearly knew him well. In his 1987 autobiography, A Life in Peace and War, Urquhart wrote, “We saw him as two people: Waldheim Mark I, a scheming, ambitious, duplicitous egomaniac, ready to do anything for advantage or public acclaim; and Waldheim Mark II, the statesmanlike leader who kept his head while all about him were losing theirs in great international crises.”
In many respects, Waldheim is still two men: to his critics, an energetic and committed disciple of Nazi Germany; to his dwindling supporters, the victim of spurious documents and foreign conspiracy. But, says Urquhart, Waldheim’s apparently low-level role in Hitler’s army is not the real issue: the reason he should not hold public office is that he lied about his past for 40 years.
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