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Austrian Jews Showing Restraint on Pope’s Meeting with Waldheim

June 23, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Jewish community in Austria is playing it cool with respect to Pope John Paul Il’s five-day visit here, which begins Thursday.

It will include at least one meeting with President Kurt Waldheim and, for the first time on a papal visit to this country, a meeting with representatives of the Jewish community.

The pontiff is to receive six Jewish leaders here Friday morning. The delegation will include Paul Grosz, president of the Federal Association of Jewish Communities, Chief Rabbi Paul Eisenberg of Vienna and the heads of the Jewish communities in Graz, Linz, Salzburg and Innsbruck.

Austrian Jews are hardly pleased by the pope’s contracts with Waldheim, whose exposed Nazi past has made him anathema to most heads of state and government. But Grosz made it clear the community will react cautiously.

“We will observe carefully whether the pope will remain within his range of diplomatic duties, or whether he will present Waldheim as a white knight. If the latter is the case, we would have to speak up,” the Jewish community leader declared.

Grosz flatly denied media reports that he had prepared a strongly worded speech to deliver to the pope in which he would blame the Catholic Church for inciting anti-Semitism and criticize the pontiff for not raising that subject when he met Waldheim at the Vatican a year ago.

The Jewish delegation, however, will present the pope with a resolution stressing the positive results of the Second Vatican Council more than 20 years ago as a basis for continuing Catholic-Jewish dialogue.


The Austrian Jewish community is far less confrontational over the issue of the pope and Waldheim than American Jews.

In New York, the executive committee of the American Jewish Congress adopted a resolution May 30 urging the pope not to meet with Waldheim when he goes to Austria.

The resolution stated that if the meeting does take place, “we would hope that its tone will underscore the pope’s understanding of the seriousness of the charges against Waldheim.”

A New York group calling itself “Zachor-Coalition of Concern,” headed by Rabbi Avraham Weiss, has taken out advertisements in The New York Times and other newspapers telling the pope that “by choosing to meet Mr. Waldheim you have morally compromised yourself.” Members of the group have left for Vienna, where they plan to stage protests.

But Austrian Jews seem to accept the pope’s diplomatic obligations toward a Catholic head of state. Waldheim’s trip to the Vatican in June 1987 was not at the pope’s invitation, as the President’s Office tried to imply, but was requested by Waldheim. The pope rarely denies such requests.


Jewish community leaders here will ask the pope, in the resolution they present to him, to carry the ecumenical message of Vatican II to every city, town and village he visits in Austria.

The pope will make a brief visit to site of the Mauthausen concentration camp Friday and will meet with former victims. Jewish leaders here express hope that the horrors of the Holocaust will not be played down or compared to other horrible events of the era.

According to Grosz, the Jewish community is asking the pope to acknowledge the sacredness of Jewish victims of the Holocaust. “Austrian Jews welcome all activities of the Austrian Church and the Holy See which fight anti-Semitism,” he said.

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