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Panel Member Says Proceedings Could Be Brought Against Waldheim

February 10, 1988
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The report of an international commission of historians that investigated the wartime activities of Kurt Waldheim contains sufficient information to bring criminal proceedings against the Austrian president, according to Professor Yehuda Wallach, a Tel Aviv University military historian who served on the panel.

Wallach, who returned from Vienna, where the report was submitted to Chancellor Franz Vranitzky Monday night, defended it against charges of whitewash.

He said the commission’s findings had been “falsified” in some media headlines that claimed that Waldheim received what was tantamount to exoneration from charges of his involvement in war crimes while serving as an officer in the German army occupying the Balkans during World War II.

“I believe there are enough details to warrant, even to require, the launching of a juridical process” against Waldheim, Wallach said.

“Our report provides a full and truthful picture,” he told an army radio interviewer. “True, we say that Waldheim was a lieutenant, a staff officer, and thus could not give direct orders. But we determined categorically that he was close to the (illegal) activities, that he was a participant in the activities, that he contributed to illegal acts… He was close to war crimes.”

Waldheim was charged with knowledge of and complicity in the deportation of Greek Jews and Yugoslavian civilians and atrocities against civilians and partisan fighters in Yugoslavia. But the commission’s report found “no proof” that he committed war crimes.

Wallach said the commission’s findings were that “he was part of a system, passing on orders and never trying to prevent the execution of illegal orders — as did other officers in similar circumstances.

“Waldheim knew of such instances, and he knew nothing happened to these officers” who protected and tried to prevent the execution of illegal orders, he said.

Wallach acknowledged that the panel attributed a somewhat vague “degree of responsibility” to Waldheim. But the Israeli historian noted that it was for the Austrian people, not scholars, to decide whether he should remain in office.

He noted that the Austrian president “for years hid his past and recognized it only when he was forced to confront the facts.”

In Vienna, Waldheim appeared on Austrian television late Monday night and reiterated his intention not to resign. Insisting that the panel had found him innocent of direct involvement in war crimes, the Austrian president, who served two terms as United Nations secretary general, stressed that he wants to continue to serve his country.

He insisted that his awareness that war crimes were taking place does not disqualify him. “Everybody knew something, one person more, the other less,” he said. The historians said in their report that he had been a very well-informed staff officer in the Balkans.

The Austrian news media was sharply divided along party lines with respect to the nature of the panel’s report. The nationalist tabloid Neue Kronenzeitung headlined the fact that the historians found no personal guilt. But the Socialist daily Arbeitzeitung said the panel found Waldheim was “an accomplice.”

(Vienna correspondent Reinhard Engel contributed to this report.)

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