VIENNA (Jun. 19)
The Austrian Jewish community spoke out strongly this week against the anti-Semitism that permeated the election campaign of Kurt Waldheim.
The community’s board of directors issued a statement at a press conference Wednesday deploring the “irresponsible” language of conservative politicians who supported Waldheim, candidate of the People’s Party, who won a substantial victory over his Socialist opponent, Kurt Steyrer in the June 8 run-off elections for the Presidency of Austria.
The anti-Semitism was a backlash against the persistent efforts, primarily by the World Jewish Congress, to expose Waldheim’s Nazi past. Dr. Ivan Hacker, president of the Austrian Jewish community, noted that the community had consciously refrained from making statements during the election campaign. “But now, after the election, we cannot stay silent any longer” because “further silence would be harmful to all of us.”
ACCUSED OF ‘LUEGER TYPE’ ANTI-SEMITISM
“We have to take note of the irresponsibility of those leading politicians” who “might not have acted out of an inner conviction, but cynically used the means of Lueger-type political anti-Semitism,” Hacker said. He was referring to Karl Lueger, a popular Mayor of Vienna at the turn of the century who was one of the first European politicians to employ anti-Semitic propaganda to win office.
Hacker did not name anyone in the Waldheim campaign. But younger members of the community board singled out, among others, Michael Graff, Secretary-General of the People’s Party. Graff promptly denied that he had made a single anti-Semitic statement during the election campaign and attacked “the Mafia-type methods of the slanderers of the World Jewish Congress.”
He said it would have been conducive to reconciliation if “those speaking out now”–meaning the Jewish community board–”had dissociated themselves in time from the slanderous campaign of the WJC.”
Graff, during the election campaign warned the WJC to desist from publicizing evidence against Waldheim lest “sentiments would rise here in Austria that none of us wants.”
Hacker said, “As Jews, democrats and Austrians, we consider it our unavoidable duty to point to tendencies which carry with them immeasurable damage for our country, even if they are directed only against the Jews.” He said the remarks by some party leaders were without precedent in the Austrian second republic.
OTHERS ACCUSED OF ANTI-SEMITIC REMARKS
Other board members attributed anti-Semitic remarks not only to Graff but to Alois Mock, chairman of the People’s Party, Marga Hubenik, conservative Deputy Speaker of the Austrian Parliament, Walter Schwimmer, a conservative member of Parliament and president of the Austria-Israel Friendship Society, and several others.
According to the younger community board members, all of them “directly, shamelessly and without restraint, used anti-Semitic language in order to win an election.” Dr. Daniel Charin, of the Jewish Socialist Bund, stressed that anti-Semitism is not only a problem for Jews but “a matter of greed, hatred and intolerance, a sickness of the soul.”
During the four months after Waldheim announced his candidacy, the WJC systematically compiled and made public evidence indicating that the former United Nations Secretary General was implicated in atrocities against Yugoslavian partisans and civilians and the deportation of Greek Jews when he served as an intelligence officer in the Wehrmacht in the Balkans during World War II.
Waldheim was forced to admit his military service, something he omitted from his autobiography and managed to conceal for 40 years. But he insisted he was in no way involved in war crimes.
COMMUNITY STANDS BY WJC
While the Austrian Jewish community held various opinions about the WJC campaign and the manner in which it was conducted, some of them critical, it refuses to disassociate itself from the WJC. Paul Gross, a deputy president of the community, described the WJC Wednesday as “a sort of United Nations” of world Jewry.
He said it was clear that “in a pluralistic society, not all share the same opinion. There were and still are disagreements. It may happen that a single community does not go along with the view of the majority within the WJC.” He added, however, “We never disassociated ourselves from that organization and we do not intend to do so in the future.”
Community board members were skeptical of Waldheim’s approaches to the Jewish community since his election. “If we Jews are not able to pick our enemies, we can at least choose our friends,” Hacker said. Asked if the Jewish community can have an unproblematic relationship with Waldheim in the future, he replied, “I don’t know.”
Charin alluded to Waldheim’s announcement that he would shortly visit the site of the Mauthausen concentration camp and its satellite camps north of Vienna, one of the most notorious concentration camps of World War II.
“Going to Mauthausen and bowing one’s head is not enough to get instant absolution for what one did in the weeks and months before. It makes sense only if there is also an inner bow,” he said. He added that “trust is something one has to earn through work and if one has lost it once, it takes a long time to get it back.”