NEW YORK (May. 18)
The World Jewish Congress was strongly criticized this weekend by Vienna-based Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and the head of the Vienna Jewish community over its handling of the charges against Austrian Presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim, the former United Nations Secretary General accused of misrepresenting his past wartime activities as a Wehrmacht officer.
Wiesenthat charged that the WJC tactics used in uncovering the Waldheim documents linking him to war-time atrocities against Yugoslav partisans has aided in stirring anti-Semitic sentiment in Austria. He also lashed out at comments attributed to WJC officials Elan Steinberg and Israel Singer in a recent interview in the Austrian magazine Profil.
“Do you know what is reviving anti-Semitism here,” Wiesenthal was quoted as saying in an interview published here Friday in The New York Daily News. “It is not their (WJC) revelations about Waldheim’s past. No. It is an interview by Israel Singer of the World Jewish Congress, telling Austrians that Bitburg was one bitter day for President Reagan and that if Austrians elect Waldheim, the population of Austria is going to get six years of Bitburg,” a reference to the controversy surrounding President Reagan’s visit to the German military cemetery at Bitburg last year. Edgar Bronfman, WJC president, and other Jewish community leaders seemed puzzled over Wiesenthal’s criticism of the WJC, which has played a leading role in uncovering documents and other information on Waldheim’s past activities. Waldheim has denied any role in war-time atrocities against Yugoslav partisans.
The 77-year-old Nazi hunter, head of the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, repeated his charges against the WJC handling of the Waldheim affair in a weekend interview with The New York Times. He accused Singer, WJC secretary general, of having made “threats” to the Austrians if they voted to elect Waldheim Austria’s next president. He is favored to win the June 8 Presidential run off.
AN OPPORTUNIST, BUT NOT YET A WAR CRIMINAL
But, in both interviews, Wiesenthal indicated that he has not given any support to Waldheim. He said Waldheim was an “opportunist” but that he should not yet be considered a war criminal. “I don’t support him. I don’t believe him,” Wiesenthal said. “I have told him that to him directly and I will not defend him.”
The president of the Vienna Jewish Community, Ivan Hacker-Lederer, broadly confirmed Wiesenthal’s accusations, saying television appearances by Singer in Austria have had a “terrible effect” and had improved Waldheim’s electoral chances. He said he was in favor of bringing out the truth of Waldheim’s past activities, but that he disagreed with the manner in which it was being conducted. He said he did not believe Waldheim had personally committed war crimes.
CHARGES AGAINST WALDHEIM ARE ‘SERIOUS’
Wiesenthal issued a statement Friday through the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center seeking “to clarify my position” on Waldheim. He called the charges against Waldheim “serious.” He said questions as to whether Waldheim is a war criminal “can only be fully answered when all of the documents in various archives throughout the world are released and made public.”
“I challenge Mr. Waldheim to join me in demanding that the government of Yugoslavia release his file,” the statement added. Wiesenthal has called on the Yugoslav government to open its files on Waldheim. He said the Yugoslavs have information on Waldheim, who was investigated after the war by the Yugoslav War Crimes Commission which called for his arrest for murder of Yugoslavs during World War II.