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Jewish Groups Offer Sharp Reaction to Hbo’s ‘verdict’ on Waldheim Case

June 7, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Jewish groups and legal experts reacted negatively to the airing Sunday night of a Home Box Office television special on Kurt Waldheim’s wartime deeds, and to the “not-guilty” verdict delivered at the end of the show by an international panel of five judges.

The unanimous verdict was delivered by satellite from London, where the “trial”–“Waldheim: A commission of Inquiry” — was held.

“We conclude unanimously,” the judges said, “that the evidence which has been put before us is not enough to make it probable that Lieutenant Waldheim committed any of the war crimes alleged against him in this inquiry.”

In effect, the judges ruled that there was insufficient evidence to warrant Waldheim’s standing trial for complicity in Nazi wartime atrocities.

Seymour Reich, international president of B’nai B’rith, called the program “a bizarre HBO presentation, purporting to examine the allegations of war crimes against Kurt Waldheim.”

Reich said viewers “were not told of the evidence, if any, that eluded the researchers. We were not told of the witnesses who would not, or could not, face the cameras. Most prominent among the latter were Neal Sher of the U.S. Department of Justice and Kurt Waldheim himself.

“A number of well-intentioned and serious people were involved in this program, but there is no reason anyone should take this ‘inquiry’ seriously,” he said. “Those who did, and disagreed with the judges’ decision, will perhaps be permitted to appeal to Ted Turner (who owns Cable News Network) or some higher cable authority.”


Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, which initiated the inquiry into Waldheim’s past, said simply, “What do you want from a television show that had absolutely no access to the documents of the U.S. Justice Department or of the World Jewish Congress?”

Steinberg likened what they presented on television to “consumer fraud.”

“It was deceptive packaging. They purported to show a trial when it was not. It was not, because one, witnesses could lie without sanctions against perjury; two, they could not subpoena evidence; three, they did not even have Wald-heim’s personal notes; and four, the defendant himself could not be cross-examined.”

He added, “I’m looking forward to the musical version on “Showtime.”

Steinberg said the WJCongress will release a documented dossier on Waldheim’s Nazi past. “We are sending it to each member state of the United Nations, because Waldheim continues to receive an $80,000 a year pension from the U.N., which we are seeking to have stripped from him.”

Brooklyn District Attorney Elizabeth Holtzman said, “There has been a real determination by a real government, by a real law, acting under the Holtzman amendment, which has determined that there is a prima facie case that Kurt Waldheim assisted in persecution under the Nazis and is to be barred from the U.S.”

Waldheim, Holtzman added, “could have challenged that determination in a real court and be given real due process, but he has chosen not to do so.”

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