VIENNA (Jul. 8)
Kurt Waldheim was sworn in Tuesday as Austria’s sixth President in a ceremony at the Parliament Building boycotted by at least six foreign Ambassadors, including the United States envoy, because of Waldheim’s controversial war-time record as a Wehrmacht officer.
There were no visible protestors near the Parliament building, but in a nearby square, a group of four persons led by Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York and Nazi-hunter Beate Klarsfeld held candles in a silent demonstration against Waldheim’s election and Austria’s reluctance to recall its past. They had been holding their silent vigil for the past 24 hours. A few blocks away, at Vienna’s main square, a wooden “Trojan horse” wearing a swastika and the brown cap of the Nazi era’s dreaded Brownshirts, was unveiled by a group calling itself “New Austria,” which included several prominent artists and intellectuals.
The 67-year-old Waldheim, a former United Nations Secretary General, won a landslide victory last June 8 against his Socialist opponent, Kurt Steyrer, despite repeated revelations, mainly by the New York-based World Jewish Congress, concerning Waldheim’s war-time record as a Wehrmacht intelligence officer and of having concealed his past.
On Monday, the WJCongress, released in Jerusalem a newly-discovered secret German war-time document which allegedly connected for the first time the new Austrian President directly to the deportation of Greek Jews to the Auschwitz death camp in 1944.
Waldheim looked pale and tired as he walked down Parliament’s Assembly Hall and pronounced the oath of office. “I swear that I will observe the laws of the Republic and do my duty according to the best of my knowledge and my conscience–so help me God.”
He then referred at length to Austria’s pre-war anti-Semitism. “The never again that we Austrians swore on the wounds of the Second World War refers not only to the horrors of the Holocaust but also to the monstrous spirit which made such horrors possible–namely the spirit of anti-Semitism,” Waldheim said.
He added that “it must be our daily and ever renewed resolution to watch out that each citizen in our country, whatever his race, religion or belief, is treated as a brother or a sister.” He concluded, “As President of Austria, I don’t ask to be anything more than the first servant of the state.”
There was only polite applause at the Assembly Hall. Several Socialist deputies wore black ties in sign of mourning but the ceremony took place without incident. After the swearing in, several thousand people lined the Hofburg Courtyards and again politely applauded as Waldheim walked on foot to the Presidential Palace. On Tuesday night, Waldheim will preside at a major state banquet which will mark the official start of his six year term.
Ronald Lauder, the U.S. Ambassador to Austria, had what the State Department in Washington described as “long-standing plans to be out of Austria for personal reasons” at the time of the inauguration. The State Department indicated the U.S. would be represented by the Embassy Charge d’Affairs.
With continued documentation being uncovered at various sources about Waldheim’s Nazi past, it remains likely that the Reagan Administration will continue to be under pressure to make a decision on whether to bar the Austrian President from the United States by having his name placed on the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s so called “watch list.”
This list bars persons accused of Nazi war crimes from the U.S. The Justice Department has met with lawyers representing Waldheim on the matter. Numerous Congressmen have urged Attorney General Edwin Meese to soon render a decision on Waldheim’s status in the U.S. In Israel, meanwhile, as Waldheim was sworn in as the new President of Austria, the extraordinary nine-and-a-half hour documentary “Shoah,” which retraces the story of the Holocaust, was symbolically shown inside the Knesset building in Jerusalem. The screening of the documentary by Claude Lanzmann was initiated by the Knesset’s Education Committee, chaired by Laborite Naham Raz.
In Tel Aviv, some 200 persons, among them Holocaust survivors, demonstrated outside the Austrian Embassy at the time of the inauguration ceremony in Vienna.