VIENNA (Mar. 3)
Documents recently released from the Austrian War Archives have raised a controversy here over whether Kurt Waldheim, former Secretary General of the United Nations and now a conservative candidate for the Presidency of Austria, had an active Nazi past.
Waldheim’s military and civilian files, published in facsimile in the current edition of the news magazine Profil, show that Waldheim, in his youth, was a member of the Nazi SA and the National Socialist Student Organization. Waldheim has denied membership in either. He has a defender in the person of veteran Nazi-hunter, Simon Wiesenthal.
The files, which according to Profil were opened only two weeks ago, provide details of Waldheim’s military career as a first lieutenant in the cavalry. The record shows that he joined the Student Organization on April, 1938, only a few weeks after the Aeschluss and was registered as a member of the SA (Sturmabteilung or Storm Troopers) mounted division in November of that year.
WALDHEIM OFFERS AN EXPLANATION
Waldheim said the only explanation he could offer was that as an ardent horseman, he had on occasion gone on riding outings with Nazis. That, he told Profil, might account for his mistaken listing as a member of the SA mounted division. The records of Waldheim’s de-Nazification process in 1946 confirmed that his association with the SA was solely in pursuit of his passion for horseback riding.
The former diplomat’s memoirs mention no connection with any Nazi organization. He described himself as the son of a conservative Catholic family which the Nazis considered politically unreliable. Nazi files of 1940 confirm that he was involved in fist fights with Nazis just before the Anschulss and that his father, a Vienna district school inspector, was replaced immediately after the Nazi takeover of Austria.
The Waldheim file was released, after 40 years, on orders of Chancellor Fred Sinowatz last January. He also ordered release of the file of Waldheim’s leading opponent for the Presidency, Socialist Kurt Steyrer. The files revived old rumors that, as a cavalry officer, Waldheim had participated in mop-up operations in the Balkans during World War II, apparently against anti-Nazi partisans.
WIESENTHAL REJECTS REPORT
But Wiesenthal, who heads the Vienna-based Nazi war crimes documentation center, said the files do not justify such charges. “Under such circumstances the Soviets would never have allowed Waldheim to become Secretary General” of the UN, Wiesenthal contended.
Waldheim served two five-year terms Secretary General, from 1972-81. At the end of 1981 he stood for re-election to a third term but was defeated by Javier Perez de Cuellar of Peru.
With respect to his military record, Wiesenthal said: “I have checked with the German public prosecutor. The units where Waldheim served were strictly combat units. None of them served in mopping-up actions.”