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July 9, 2007 | by  | in Opinion |
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Kurt Joseph Waldheim: 1918 – 2007

Last month, Kurt Waldheim, former United Nations Secretary General (1972-81) and president of Austria (1986-92), passed away of congestive heart failure. It was fitting that he should slip from this world so quietly, at the venerable age of 88, after a decade of quiet retirement. It was fitting, for Waldheim was a man who carefully bottled up his demons and, even when they leaked out for all the world to gawk at, refused to confront their scary fangs or the corpses they left in their wake.

What were these demons?

Waldheim was – how do I put this nicely – somewhat of a Nazi war criminal. After a relatively smooth tenure as Secretary General, Waldheim released his autobiography in 1985 as he ran for the Austrian presidency. In his book, Waldheim admitted that he had been a member of the Nazi army, but claimed that he had been put out of battle by an injury in 1941.

Unfortunately, this was not the case (translation: a fucking lie), and the observant journalist Alfred Worm sparked a series of revelations which lead to an Independent Committee of Historians reviewing his past. The committee eventually discovered his signature on a set of interrogation records detailing the “examination” of anti-Nazi patriots and British agents in the Balkans, during the final years of the war.

It turns out old Kurt had been a rather naughty boy and was an intelligence officer operating under General Alexander Löhr, the “Butcher of the Balkans”, who was later executed for crimes against humanity due to the operation of Jasenovac concentration camp (besides other dastardly deeds). Waldheim responded to these revelations by admitting, “Okay, I may have omitted a few odd things, but I was just a clerk and I didn’t see none of this”. When it was pointed out that his office in the army barracks would have been so close to the concentration camp that he would have heard everything, and that he signed the interrogations of British spies who were tortured and executed, he then admitted, “Okay, so I may have heard a few screams, but what could I do? Anyway, it was my subordinates who did the examinations”.

Nevertheless, he clearly knew enough about the Nazi suppression of Yugoslav “terroristen” to lecture UN officials in Lebanon about how to suppress “terrorism” in their country. Now that’s what I call extensive work experience.

But perhaps Waldheim didn’t torture anyone. We know he signed the papers, but who can say for sure whether he was really eating a salami sandwich when the thumb screws were applied? Not I. Nevertheless, it says a lot about Austria that they elected him President, despite his glossing over war crimes. And it says a lot about the world that even though he was married to an unapologetically Nazi wife (Elisabeth Ritschel), and even though questions already existed over his war record, he was made UN Secretary General with little opposition – yet was considered unfit to be President of a small nation. Repeat after me: it’s one small step for war criminals, one giant leap backwards for global priorities.

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About the Author ()

Tristan Egarr edited in 2008. He threw a chair once.

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