Havel Rebukes Waldheim Publiclyin Speech at Salzburg Festival
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Havel Rebukes Waldheim Publiclyin Speech at Salzburg Festival

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President Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia opened the Salzburg, Austria, music festival on Thursday with a public rebuke of Kurt Waldheim in his presence, saying “people who try to hide their true biography do a disservice to their people, their country and even to themselves.”

Havel and President Richard von Weizsacker of West Germany were received by Waldheim at the opening ceremony and posed for pictures with him.

The address by Havel perhaps carried as much of a sting than had he heeded the outcry of Jewish activists and others to boycott a meeting with the controversial Austrian president.

Until the very last moment, Czech intellectuals, West Germans of all denominations and Jews tried to prevent the two presidents from attending the ceremony in Salzburg.

Several Jewish demonstrators, led by Rabbi Avraham Weiss of New York, stood outside the Mozartium concert hall in Salzburg shouting “shame for meeting Nazi Waldheim” and “history will not forget,” as the presidents arrived.

Weiss and another demonstrator managed to enter the hall but were hauled out after creating a disturbance.

With Waldheim sitting expressionless in the front row, Havel told the gathering of 1,500 guests, “If a person is afraid to look his own past in the eye, he will also fear what lies ahead. People who falsify history don’t rescue freedom, they jeopardize it.”


His remarks were alluding to Waldheim’s falsified autobiography, which concealed for nearly 40 years his military service in World War II with a Wehrmacht unit that committed atrocities against civilians and partisan fighters in the Balkans.

An Austrian investigation concluded in 1988 that Waldheim concealed his service. It left open his role in reprisals against civilians and the deportation of Greek Jews.

In Washington, B’nai B’rith sent letters to Havel and Weizsacker expressing “profound disappointment” at their having greeted Waldheim.

“What is the message you are sending to the world, when you greet in a diplomatic forum a man who has practiced deceit and falsehood in covering up his odious Nazi past?” wrote Seymour Reich, B’nai B’rith president.

Havel, who received his invitation to Salzburg last year while still a dissident playwright in disgrace with the Communist regime, stressed on his arrival in Salzburg that the visit was purely “personal.”

Von Weizsacker did not speak publicly at the ceremony.

Earlier in the week, West Germany’s Jewish community protested strongly against his plans to attend. The President’s Office in Bonn issued a statement saying he went to Salzburg at the special request of his friend and colleague, President Havel.

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