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European Jewish Congress Urges Pope Not to Meet Waldheim

June 2, 1988
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The European Jewish Congress wound up its two-day annual conference here Tuesday night with an appeal to Pope John Paul II to avoid contact with President Kurt Waldheim of Austria during his visit to Vienna later this month.

While the resolution expressed deep concern that such a meeting would take place — the second between the pontiff and Waldheim — it pointedly avoided any reference to possible consequences for Jewish-Catholic relations.

The pope’s June 1987 audience with Waldheim drew strong worldwide criticism for what seemed to be a sanctioning of Waldheim’s wartime activities.

The resolution adopted here was a follow-up to a letter that Congress president Theo Klein sent last January to the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli.

Klein wrote that the papal trip to Austria was not only a pastoral visit but could be construed as having a political character because of the “impact of the pope on the moral level.”

“John Paul II could have waited for such a visit to Austria for the Austrians to do their housecleaning at home,” Klein wrote, an allusion to a movement by some Austrian groups to force Waldheim to resign.

The Congress’ position on Waldheim was reinforced when the World Jewish Congress, with whom the European Congress is affiliated, released a 65-page dossier on Waldheim Tuesday.


Compiled by researchers from the archives of a dozen countries, the report updates Waldheim’s role as an intelligence officer in a unit of the German army occupying the Balkans during World War II. It showed that his unit was directly involved in the deportation of Jews and other atrocities against civilians and resistance fighters.

The dossier will be given to members of the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, who will be meeting with Jewish officials in Geneva Thursday.

The European Jewish Congress conference was attended by about 100 delegates from Jewish communities in 25 countries of Western and Eastern Europe — though none from the Soviet Union — and by observers from the United States and Israel.

The European body also adopted resolutions on Syrian Jewry and the process of democratization in the Soviet Union.

The conference ended without selecting a new president to succeed Klein, whose two-year term will end next September. Klein is French and heads the representative body of French-Jewish organizations, CRIF.

When the European Jewish Congress was founded in January 1986, it was agreed that its leadership would be rotated between France and Britain, the European countries with the largest Jewish communities. Klein’s successor therefore was to be Lionel Kopelowitz, current president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

But some delegations from smaller Jewish communities challenged the rotation idea Tuesday, suggesting that the presidency should be based on competence, not nationality. The Congress will examine the issue over the next several months.

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