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Waldheim Knew of British Executed, but Says He Has a ‘clean Conscience’

March 7, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

President Kurt Waldheim of Austria insisted Sunday that he has “a clean conscience” with respect to the interrogation of six captured British commandos in Greece in 1944, who were later executed by the Nazis.

He admitted on a British television interview that he knew of the incident and did nothing about it, but denied he was personally involved.

“I have not done anything wrong. I was sharing the fate of hundreds of thousands of Austrians who were drafted into the German army,” declared the former United Nations secretary general, who served as a Wehrmacht counterintelligence officer in the Balkans during World War II.

A new inquiry into the wartime deaths of the six commandos was ordered last month by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, following allegations that Waldheim was involved in their fate. A similar inquiry in 1986 found no link with Austria’s chief of state.

The fresh inquiry was demanded by Robert Rhodes James, a Conservative Party member of Parliament from Cambridge who worked for Waldheim at the United Nations. Dissatisfaction with the earlier probe grew after disclosure that three Foreign Office files on one of the commandos were destroyed 10 years ago, as part of routine “shredding.”

Rhodes James commented after Sunday’s interview with Waldheim that he did not believe the disclaimer. He said the interview was “evasive smokescreen stuff, lies and whoppers.”

Waldheim claimed he came from a family persecuted by the Nazis. “My opponents have just chosen the wrong target. If they had found a Nazi or a war criminal, that is OK, but this is not the case,” he said.

Asked if he was involved in the disappearance of British commandos, Waldheim replied, “No definitely not. I did not interrogate anybody, neither partisans nor members of the commandos during the war. My position is well known. The allegations made in this connection are not founded.”

Pressed further, the Austrian president said, “There were people on the staff who did the interrogations, but this was not done by me. I was not personally involved in this.” He said he had nothing whatever to do with the so-called “special treatment” orders issued by Hitler, which usually resulted in executions of commandos.

Greville Janner, a Labor Party member of Parliament and former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said afterward, “If he (Waldheim) does not go, it is an expression of his own thick-skinned refusal to understand what is going on.” Janner was an investigator for the Nuremberg war crimes trials shortly after World War II.

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