VIENNA (Sep. 30)
Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal denied here Monday that he ever withheld information regarding Austrian President Kurt Waldheim’s wartime activities. At the same time he referred to Waldheim as “a burden for Austria” and thought he should resign even if it is determined he was not personally involved in Nazi atrocities but had knowledge of them.
Wiesenthal spoke at a press conference called to reply to media allegations that he withheld information about Waldheim. The matter was raised after an Italian newspaper, L’Epoca, published a handwritten letter to Wiesenthal from British historian Gerald Fleming, alluding to documents on Waldheim’s involvement in the interrogation of British prisoners of war who were later handed over to the SS and executed.
Fleming, a member of an international commission of historians probing Waldheim’s past, asked Wiesenthal not to publish the documents.
According to Wiesenthal, Fleming wrote to him two weeks after the West German news magazine Der Spiegel reported on Waldheim’s alleged involvement in the interrogations. Waldheim has denied he was present but the British Foreign Office considers the allegations a fact.
Wiesenthal said Fleming’s request came during the Austrian Presidential elections in the summer of 1986 when there was an upsurge of anti-Semitic sentiment in Austria because of the World Jewish Congress’ exposure of Waldheim’s past. Fleming thought the documents should be published by non-Jewish sources, Wiesenthal said.
Wiesenthal, who heads the Nazi war crimes documentation center here, has been criticized in the past for his position that Waldheim, an intelligence officer in the German army occupying the Balkans during World War II, must have known about atrocities but had no power to order them.
At his press conference Monday, he said “If there was personal guilt and the Commission (of historians) finds out, he (Waldheim) has to take the consequences. If not, which I think, if the Commission finds out that he was one of the best informed officers on the Balkans without any personal, individual guilt, he may decide to step down from his office, for the good of Austria.”
Meanwhile, the first publicly acknowledged meeting between a leading Austrian political figure and the World Jewish Congress took place here Monday in an apparent effort to ease the strains which have developed between Austria and the Jewish organization.
Former Foreign Minister Leopold Gratz, a Socialist and current President of the Austrian Parliament, conferred for nearly three hours with WJC president Edgar Bronfman and other WJC officials. He spoke in the name of Chancellor Franz Vranitzky. The participants said later that the meeting was an important move toward repairing Jewish relations with Austria.