LONDON (Oct. 18)
A Defense Ministry inquiry has absolved Kurt Waldheim of responsibility for the mistreatment or execution of British prisoners of war, while he was a young intelligence officer serving with the German army in the Balkans during World War II.
But the report, released here Tuesday, did nothing to raise the estimation of Waldheim in the eyes of many members of Parliament and other officials.
They still regard the Austrian president and former U.N. secretary-general as a liar who falsified his wartime record and who at a minimum had knowledge of Nazi atrocities, if he did not participate in them directly.
Greville Janner, a Labor member of Parliament and secretary of the All Party War Crimes Group, said, “He is not criminally liable but he is certainly morally responsible and should never have been secretary-general of the United Nations or president of a decent country.”
According to Conservative Robert Rhodes James, Waldheim was innocent of war crimes but guilty of deceiving the Austrian people and the world over his war record.
“He lied every time he was asked about his involvement in the war. He is a most contemptible man.” Rhodes James said.
In Washington, Neal Sher, director of the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, said the report would have no effect on the department’s decision to bar Waldheim from entering the United States.
Waldheim’s office in Vienna said the president reacted with “gratification” to the report and claimed it proved his innocence of other war crimes charges.
Considerable evidence was produced by the World Jewish Congress and from U.N. archives after Waldheim was elected president of Austria in 1986. The evidence indicated his certain knowledge of and possible complicity in the deportation of Greek Jews and atrocities against civilians in Yugoslavia.
Israel has said it would not replace its ambassador in Vienna as long as Waldheim is president.
The inquiry and report by Defense Ministry experts and historians, which took 20 months to complete, affirmed that Waldheim assisted the intelligence chief of German Group E headquarters in Salonika in 1944, but found no evidence that he was responsible for the brutal treatment of Allied POWs or the execution of British commandos.
Nevertheless, in his position, he “would clearly have been aware of the existence of any Allied servicemen brought to Salonika for interrogation and he would have known that interrogations were taking place,” the report said.