The Austrian Embassy in Washington has been instructed to investigate whether the United States intends to adopt the recommendation of a U.S. Justice Department official who has urged in a written report that Presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim be barred from the U.S. because of his war-time activities as a Wehrmacht officer.
Foreign Minister Leopold Gratz told a news conference in Vienna Saturday that he had advised the Embassy to look into the possibility of Waldheim being barred from the country. Gratz said that if this was true, Waldheim would be eligible for the protection of the Austrian Consulate like all other Austrian citizens.
Gratz’s remarks came shortly after it was disclosed in Washington that Neal Sher, the director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, had urged that Waldheim be barred from the U.S. under a 1978 amendment to the immigration law that excludes aliens who took part in Nazi war crimes.
CONTROVERSY OVER STATEMENT BY KOHL
In the midst of the latest developments involving Waldheim, a controversy emerged in West Germany where Chancellor Helmut Kohl was embroiled in a dispute with opposition parties in Bonn–the Greens and the Social Democrats–who were sharply critical of the Chancellor’s defense of Waldheim.
Kohl strongly defended his “old personal friend” in an interview on Austrian State radio Saturday. Kohl also accused the former United Nations Secretary General’s critics of arrogance. “Many of those who make accusations about him today come from a later generation who experienced the war years as children,” Kohl said. “I sense an arrogance of the lateborn, which I find hard to bear.”
Kohl stressed that he was not seeking to interfere in the Presidential election campaign in the neighboring country, though it was noted that Kohl’s remarks were made while attending a meeting in Salzburg with Waldheim and leaders of the Austrian People’s Party, which is backing Waldheim, and which has close relations with Kohl’s Christian Democratic Union.
But opposition party spokespersons in Bonn charged that they detected in Kohl’s remarks the same thinking that became evident in his visit to Israel last year and his invitation to President Reagan last May to visit the military cemetery in Bitburg, where numerous SS officials are buried along with other German soldiers.
A spokesperson for the Green Party said Kohl failed to make a distinction between the prosecutors and persecutees, and presents all who lived in the Nazi period as victims of the “regime.” This attitude makes him unfit to speak about Germany’s desire for a reconciliation with the Jews and others who suffered under the Nazis, the spokesperson charged.
REACTION TO SHER’S REPORT
Meanwhile, Justice Department officials in Washington cautioned that the recommendation in Sher’s report seeking to place Waldheim on a watch list was “at least days away” from being forwarded to Attorney General Edwin Meese and that the recommendation “certainly does not represent Department policy.” A Justice Department statement issued last Thursday in Washington said “no conclusions have been reached, nor has any review taken place at any decision making level” about Waldheim’s status.
Nonetheless, Sher’s recommendation drew mixed reactions in Vienna. Waldheim’s office sought to downplay the possibility of the former UN Secretary General being placed on a government watch list. At the same time, Michael Graff, secretary general of Waldheim’s People’s Party, accused the World Jewish Congress with being involved in the report’s leak to the media.
In his report, Sher urged that “Waldheim’s name be entered on the INS watch list,” a list maintained by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of deportable aliens. War records show, Sher maintained, that Waldheim was a “special mission staff officer in the Intelligence and Counterintelligence branch” of the German Army’s Group E, which was involved in reprisals against civilians in the Balkans.
Waldheim has denied being a member of the counterintelligence service, known as Abwehr. Waldheim is reported in Sher’s recommendation as having obtained “03” status. This, Sher said, “meant that Waldheim was the third highest ranking special missions officer on General (Alexander) Loehr’s staff, no mean feat for a young lieutenant.” Loehr was commander of Army Group E. He was hanged in 1948 for war crimes.
In Washington, meanwhile, The House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Human Rights and International Organizations held a hearing on the Waldheim matter. Testifying at the hearing last Tuesday, Stephen Solarz (D. NY) called for an international tribunal to review the military activities of Waldheim, currently the frontrunner in next month’s election.
Solarz said he had asked the Central Intelligence Agency in 1980 to undertake an investigation of Waldheim’s past and received a response that “looked as if it had come off Mr. Waldheim’s Xerox machine.” He called the CIA investigation “incompetent at best, and indifferent at worst.”
Speaking in Waldheim’s defense were former Foreign Minister of Austria and former Ambassador to the UN, Karl Bruger, and the son of the former Secretary-General, Gerhard Waldheim, who has been speaking on his father’s behalf in various forums.