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U.S. Envoy Ends Controversial Tour of Duty in Austria

United States Ambassador Ronald Lauder formally ended a relatively brief tour of duty here Thursday. It lasted only 19 months, during which he incurred the anger of conservative Austrians for pointedly distancing himself from President Kurt Waldheim, but gained the respect and affection of Austrian Jewry.

Lauder, who is Jewish and is the son of Estee Lauder, head of a worldwide cosmetics business, made his last call at the Foreign Ministry to bid official farewell to Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor Alois Mock and Secretary General Thomas Klestil. He stressed that good bilateral relations are still developing between Austria and the United States, despite some recent troubles.

Mock heads the conservative People’s Party which sponsored Waldheim’s candidacy for the office of president in the summer of 1986. It was during that campaign that Jewish groups, led by the World Jewish Congress, exposed Waldheim’s involvement in Nazi atrocities when he served as an intelligence officer in the German army in the Balkans during World War II — an episode that Waldheim had concealed for 40 years, including his two terms as United Nations secretary general.

Waldheim nevertheless won a landslide victory. Revelations of his Nazi associations made him something of a diplomatic pariah. The U.S. Department of Justice placed him on the “watch list” of foreigners inadmissable to the United States. Lauder managed to be absent from the country for Waldheim’s inauguration and later had contact with the president on only the most formal occasions.

A STRAIN ON AUSTRIAN RELATIONS

The situation put a severe strain on Austria’s relations with the Reagan administration which, paradoxically, had preferred a conservative head of state in Austria to a socialist.

On Monday evening, the Vienna Jewish community held a farewell reception for Lauder. He was presented with a gold medal bearing the motto “For the fighters for justice, reconciliation, for peoples and human dignity.”

Paul Grosz, president of the Jewish community, who spoke on the occasion, said Lauder had given Austrian Jews more than could have been expected from a foreign envoy. “In an admirable mixture of vision and practical devotion, he showed a deep interest in the Jewish community,” Grosz said.

He thanked Lauder for his personal contributions to Jewish projects in Vienna, such as funding a school for Jewish immigrant children from the Soviet Union, for financial help for a religious and cultural center for Soviet Jews and for student exchange programs in collaboration with B’nai B’rith.

Grosz also noted that Lauder recently established a “Foundation for the Preservation and Promotion of Jewish and Minority Cultures in Europe.” The foundation will grant funds to Jewish organizations and small communities to support clubs and groups fighting anti-Semitism.

Lauder is expected to be succeeded as ambassador by Vienna-born Henry Anatol Grunwald, who is also Jewish and has just stepped down as publisher of the Time-Life Corp.

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