WJC 85th Anniversary - World Jewish Congress
A Message from WJC President Ronald S. Lauder

Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder


Menachem Z. Rosensaft

The Jewish Right to Equality

Judge Julian W. Mack

The World Jewish Congress during World War II

Gregory J. Wallance

The Re-enfranchisement of the Jew

Rabbi Stephen S.Wise

Nuremberg and Beyond: Jacob Robinson, a Champion for Justice

Jonathan A. Bush

The State of World Jewry, 1948

Nahum Goldmann

Gerhart M. Riegner: Pioneer for Jewish–Catholic Relations in the Contemporary World

Monsignor Pier Francesco Fumagalli

The World Jewish Congress and the State of Israel: A Personal Reminiscence

Natan Lerner

The World Jewish Congress, the League of Nations, and the United Nations

Zohar Segev

From Pariah to Partner: The Jews of Postwar Germany and the World Jewish Congress

Michael Brenner

Diplomatic Interventions: The World Jewish Congress and North African Jewry

Isabella Nespoli, Menachem Z. Rosensaft

Bourguiba’s Jewish Friend

S. J. Goldsmith

Soviet Jewry: Debates and Controversies

Suzanne D. Rutland

Advancing the Best in Jewish Culture

Philip M. Klutznick

The Struggle for Historical Integrity at Auschwitz-Birkenau

Laurence Weinbaum

New Directions and Priorities, 1985

Edgar M. Bronfman

Fighting Delegitimization: The United Nation’s “Zionism Is Racism” Resolution, a Case Study

Evelyn Sommer

Navigating the Communist Years: A Jewish Perspective

Maram Stern

The Kurt Waldheim Affair

Eli M. Rosenbaum

In Search of Justice: The World Jewish Congress and the Swiss Banks

Gregg J. Rickman

Confronting Terror: The Buenos Aires Bombings

Adela Cojab-Moadeb

The World Jewish Congress Today

Robert R. Singer

My Vision of the Jewish Future

Ambassador Ronald S. Lauder


Robert R. Singer

WJC 1936 - 2021

The Kurt Waldheim Affair

As 1985 drew to a close, the international public profile of the World Jewish Congress was slowly but steadily growing, in large part as a result of the efforts of Executive Director Elan Steinberg. Arriving at the organization in 1978 at the age of just twenty-six, he brought to the WJC a preternaturally sophisticated media savvy and a brash determination to restore the estimable international stature that the WJC had enjoyed during the early part of the Nahum Goldmann era, but had long since forfeited. Steinberg’s audacious goal was to return the WJC to its former position as a major player on the world stage, defending and advancing the interests of the Jewish people, and especially protecting Israel and imperiled Jewish communities throughout the world. Crucially, Steinberg gained strong backing for his vision of “American-style assertiveness” from Edgar M. Bronfman, the prominent businessman and philanthropist who had been elected president of the organization in 1981, succeeding Philip Klutznick, as well as from WJC Secretary-General Israel Singer. Bronfman in particular was virtually fearless in matters involving fundamental justice and security for the Jewish people and Israel, and so the bold tactics for which the WJC soon became known won his early backing.

A son of Holocaust survivors, Steinberg was instinctively and passionately drawn to issues involving the escape from justice of Nazi criminals. The fact that the vast majority of the perpetrators had eluded justice offended him deeply. We first met in 1985 when I was practicing law at a Manhattan law firm after working for three years in Washington as a prosecutor in the US Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations (OSI). That unit was tasked with investigating and bringing legal actions to deport participants in Nazi-sponsored crimes of persecution who had come to the United States after World War II. I initially reached out to Steinberg in the spring of 1985 to seek his assistance in publicizing the determined efforts being mounted principally by activists and groups based in the Baltic- and Ukrainian-American communities, with the support of unorthodox political figures such as Patrick Buchanan and Lyndon LaRouche, to undermine OSI’s work and even shut it down. Steinberg was immediately receptive to my appeal, and the WJC held a press conference and issued a short report on the activities of these persons and groups, highlighting documented instances of anti-Semitism in the campaign against the Justice Department’s prosecutorial program. The WJC’s revelations garnered extensive media coverage, including in The New York Times. I also introduced Steinberg to then-OSI Director Neal M. Sher, and the two soon became close allies on issues involving fugitive Nazi criminals. Their working relationship endured for the remainder of Sher’s distinguished fifteen-year tenure at the Department of Justice, and their collaboration soon established the WJC as the leading non-governmental organization (NGO) supporting OSI. Steinberg frequently reminded interlocutors that the World Jewish Congress had been founded in 1936 to prevent further anti-Jewish depredations by the Hitler regime and that, despite the organization’s valiant efforts (which included informing the Allies for the first time, in 1942, about the Nazis’ diabolical “Final Solution” to exterminate European Jewry), the WJC had failed in that life-and-death mission, with ghastly consequences. He was determined that no stone be left unturned in the effort to ensure that surviving perpetrators were held accountable—an effort in which the WJC had already been engaged, in one capacity or another, since the time of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1945–1946. For example, the WJC’s Jacob Robinson was a key advisor to Justice Robert H. Jackson, the lead American prosecutor at Nuremberg, and later to Israeli prosecutors in the Adolf Eichmann case. The WJC had also long assisted prosecutors in West Germany and elsewhere in locating and contacting Holocaust survivors who might serve as trial witnesses.

Several important lessons were learned by the WJC leadership from the organization’s April 1985 experience exposing the efforts that were being directed against the US prosecutorial program. One such lesson was that despite the passage of more than four decades, public and media interest in the horrific crimes committed by the Nazis remained strong. The most important of these lessons was that the organization could make a powerful impact (despite its very small staff, especially compared with those of other well-known Jewish organizations) by identifying an issue or problem that was undiscovered, or at least under-advocated; seizing the initiative on that issue in key public forums; assiduously developing a constituency for the issue, especially through press outreach efforts that fed the media’s constant thirst for new and significant (and preferably sensational) information; and, as a consequence, acquiring, in effect, global “ownership” of that issue.

In this regard, comparison with another World War II–related issue on which WJC leadership had labored that year is instructive. The WJC had been actively engaged, at roughly the same time in 1985, in the ultimately unsuccessful effort to dissuade US President Ronald Reagan from making a ceremonial visit with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl to the German military cemetery at Bitburg, where former Waffen-SS men were buried alongside former German soldiers. However, the WJC’s voice had been just one of many raised around the world in protest against the proposed visit; it had not been the first to denounce it, and the WJC’s public activism broke no new ground factually. As a result, the organization’s efforts did not distinguish the WJC in the court of public opinion from those of other Jewish groups that spoke out against the Bitburg visit. More importantly, The WJC was not in a position to significantly shape public discourse on the issue or, in the end, to influence the outcome.

An additional lesson learned from the WJC’s successful public exposure of the efforts that were being made to thwart the US prosecutorial program in the Nazi cases was that because the WJC’s professional and lay leadership cadres were so small, and because lay leadership approval for most activities was only needed, if at all, from Edgar Bronfman, the WJC had the ability to move swiftly, unhampered by a sizeable professional bureaucracy. (I had, in fact, brought the matter of the anti-OSI campaign first to another major Jewish organization, but because the approval process in that group dragged on for months, I decided to reach out to the much more nimble World Jewish Congress, which ultimately spoke out first on the issue, even though the other organization had a very substantial lead time on the WJC.) As it happened, all of these lessons would be put to use in just a few months’ time when, in early 1986, the WJC almost singlehandedly exposed what arguably was the most sensational and shocking Nazi scandal in postwar history.

I left private practice in late 1985, accepting an offer from the WJC to fill the newly created position of general counsel. At the time of my arrival, the organization’s professional staff (which numbered less than twenty worldwide) was almost completely occupied with making preparations for the WJC’s global plenary assembly, a conference held every four or five years, often in Israel, that brought together leaders of Jewish communities from nearly every country in which Jews lived. The next such gathering was scheduled to be held in January 1986.

At the plenary assembly, the Austrian Jewish community was represented by, among others, Leon Zelman, a Holocaust survivor and long-time head of Vienna’s Jewish Welcome Service. Zelman was eager to speak with me about Kurt Waldheim, the Austrian diplomat who had served two terms as Secretary-General of the United Nations (1972 through 1981). Waldheim was now running for the largely ceremonial position of president of Austria, on the slate of the Österreichische Volkspartei (ÖVP) [the Austrian People’s Party], which was the out-of-power conservative rival to the long-dominant, liberal Sozialistische Partei Österreichs (SPÖ), the Socialist party. When I was introduced to Zelman, it was immediately apparent that he was agitated about something. He showed me a half-page article that had been published the previous Sunday in Profil, an influential, if comparatively small, Austrian weekly magazine. The article concerned an ongoing controversy in the city of Wiener Neustadt, where the Austrian military academy, with the support of Austria’s defense minister, was refusing to remove a newly installed plaque that honored the late General Alexander Loehr— despite the fact that he had been hanged as a Nazi war criminal by the Yugoslav government in 1947. The final three lines of the article mentioned a “rumor” that “presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim” had once been Loehr’s “personal adjutant in the Wehrmacht.” However, this rumor was refuted, the article reported, by the head of Vienna’s Institute for Military History, who explained that “Waldheim was only an Ordonnanzoffizier” (special missions staff officer) on the staff of Army Group E, “whose Kommandant Loehr was.” (Waldheim’s declaration of his candidacy for president had plainly inspired persons affiliated with the Socialist Party to look, however belatedly, into his wartime past. In fact, I soon learned that the small Profil item linking Waldheim to Loehr had been planted by the Socialists as a trial balloon. To their chagrin, it had attracted no “outside” follow-up interest either in Austria or abroad.) During his decade as UN Secretary-General, rumors had occasionally circulated that Waldheim, who had always acknowledged serving as a soldier, but only briefly, in the German Wehrmacht after the Anschluss (literally “connection,” the country’s annexation by Nazi Germany in 1938), had done something sinister, or even criminal, during that service. Waldheim had always succeeded in quickly swatting down those rumors so that he could continue to present himself to a global public as “the chief human rights officer of the planet Earth.”

In light of my experience investigating suspected Nazi criminals, Zelman pleaded with me to return to Vienna with him at the conclusion of the plenary assembly to see what I could find out about Waldheim’s war record. I was skeptical. After all, Waldheim had been a prominent political figure for many years in New York City, which had long been called (especially by New Yorkers) the media capital of the world. If he had been concealing a Nazi past, wouldn’t at least one of New York’s famously aggressive investigative reporters have uncovered it years earlier? Also, when the rumors reached a fever pitch in 1981, they had been publicly refuted by no less impressive and persuasive a figure than Israel’s UN representative Yehuda Blum, himself a Holocaust survivor. He assured an interviewer that while his government had “many differences” with the Secretary-General (particularly on the Israeli-Palestinian issue), “[w]e don’t believe Waldheim ever supported the Nazis and we never said he did.” This arguably constituted the definitive exoneration. After all, Israel possessed a highly regarded foreign intelligence service, and if the government of the nation that arguably had the strongest interest in discrediting former Nazis (and in shaming Kurt Waldheim for what Israeli officials openly described as his hostility to Israel’s interests) had cleared the UN chief, one might reasonably conclude that this should end the discussion. Also, the Soviets, who seemingly never tired of exposing the hidden Nazi pasts of senior political figures in Western Europe, especially West Germany, had been the strongest champions of Waldheim’s selection as secretary-general. And our own CIA had vouched for Waldheim when a congressman inquired about him in 1981, assuring the legislator that Waldheim had been discharged from the German military early in the war after sustaining a combat injury and that there was no evidence he had participated in any crimes.

Zelman was unfailingly charming but also unremittingly insistent, and he persuaded Singer and Steinberg to dispatch me to Austria. A few days later, I was in Vienna, sitting in Zelman’s office. Zelman quickly put me in touch with an individual who was working with a small group of people who were digging into the scattered records left behind by the defeated Nazi regime to try to learn more about Waldheim’s war service. Soon, I made contact with Karl Schuller, perhaps the most devoted of the former Secretary-General’s behind-the-scenes pursuers. Schuller and I spent several hours discussing what he and his fellow researchers had found thus far. He showed me that Waldheim had publicly and repeatedly claimed that he had sustained a leg wound during the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and that after recuperating, he had returned to Vienna to resume his law studies. But documents that Schuller shared with me showed, among other things, that Waldheim had in fact returned to German military service, that he had been a senior intelligence aide to General Loehr, and, most ominously, that he had been present in Podgorica, Montenegro, on May 22, 1943, precisely at the time that a large-scale massacre of civilians and captured partisan fighters, code-named “Unternehmen Schwarz” (the “Black Operation”), was underway there.

Schuller’s newfound proof regarding Podgorica came in the form of a glossy, eight-by-ten, black-and-white photo of four uniformed officers, in an obviously posed shot, standing on a grassy airstrip. Two parked airplanes were visible in the distance. The officers stood next to another plane, the left wing of which extended most of the way across the top of the picture. In the background, a small group of soldiers marched in formation, with rifles raised. In the foreground were two automobiles from the late thirties or early forties. Three of the officers wore German uniforms of the Nazi period; the fourth wore a uniform unfamiliar to me. “The tall fellow,” Schuller said, “the second from the left— that is our friend.” The stiff, slim, hawk-nosed Oberleutnant in the black-and-white photo was glancing to one side. The profile did, indeed, appear to be a young version of Waldheim. “Turn it over,” Schuller directed. I did as he asked. The reverse side bore what looked like an original black-and-red stamp of the photographic branch of the Prince Eugen Division of the Waffen-SS, along with identifying information, typed in German: the date (May 22, 1943) and location (“landing strip at Podgorica”) of the picture, the photographer’s name, the film roll and frame number, and, finally, the typed words, in German, “From 1. to r.: Excellency Roncaglia Escola, Italian Commandant of Montenegro, Oberleutnant Waldheim, Adjutant of the Colonel, Col. Macholz, and Gruppenfuehrer Phleps.” If the photo was authentic, it was a bombshell, placing Waldheim at the scene of an ongoing massacre, posing with some of its principal perpetrators, including SS-Gruppenfuehrer Artur Phleps, who was commander of the Prince Eugen Division, one of the most notorious of all of Hitler’s Waffen-SS units.

I agreed to take the original photo and copies of the few documents that Schuller’s people had found back to the United States, and, if I could verify their authenticity and import, try to persuade the WJC leadership to make them public. When I returned to the United States, I was able to confirm the bona fides of the photo (with the assistance of a retired CIA photo analyst) and to piece together an undeniable narrative that the self-described “anti-Nazi” Waldheim had been concealing key aspects of his German war service for decades, along with prewar membership in several Nazi organizations. It was decided that I would present these materials and findings to The New York Times. Editors there assigned reporter John Tagliabue to the story and, after we met, he agreed that the discoveries merited further inquiry. I introduced him to some of my sources in Austria, and he obtained an interview with Waldheim, who had no idea that the Times was looking into his long-ago past. In his interview with Tagliabue, a plainly shocked Waldheim denied that he had concealed any- thing and insisted that he had been opposed to the Nazis and had certainly taken no part in any Nazi-sponsored crimes.

On March 4, 1986, The New York Times ran Tagliabue’s exposé of Kurt Waldheim on its front page, under the headline “files show kurt waldheim served under war Criminal,” giving prominent placement to the Podgorica airstrip photograph, attributing the photo and other evidence to the WJC. The story proved to be a worldwide phenomenon, garnering front-page newspaper coverage and lead-story status on news broadcasts throughout the free world. (The state-controlled Soviet media did not report the story.) WJC officials were eagerly sought out for media interviews by US and foreign journalists, and Edgar Bronfman became the first Jewish leader in decades to receive the honor of being featured by West Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine in its weekly Spiegel-Gespräch newsmaker interview.

The WJC’s US-based leadership, naïvely appraising the situation from an American perspective, unanimously assumed that in the wake of the international furor generated by the Times expose, Waldheim would end his presidential campaign. Our expectations in this regard were informed by the fact that American politicians had been forced from campaigns, and even from elective office, for far less serious cover-ups, such as concealing extramarital affairs. However, Waldheim never did abandon his run for Austria’s presidency. It turned out that enough Austrian voters were unconcerned about the question of his Nazi-era past that he remained a viable candidate. The WJC leadership simply had not imagined such a possibility. We also underestimated Waldheim’s determination to win the presidency. Most important, there were two key developments that we did not predict. The first was that Waldheim would be defended, very aggressively, by the famous Vienna-based Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal. (A public feud soon erupted between the WJC and Wiesenthal and the mutual antagonism had scarcely diminished when, two decades later, in 2005, Wiesenthal died at the age of ninety-six.) The second was that the Austrian People’s Party would respond to the revelations by running an openly anti-Semitic and xenophobic campaign on Waldheim’s behalf—the first such campaign by a major European political party since the Nazi Party of Germany had shocked the world in the 1930s.

In the ensuing months, the WJC responded to this surprising out- come by conducting additional research in the US National Archives and in European archives. To my surprise, I found myself once again directing a worldwide investigation of a suspected Nazi criminal— but this time without the subpoena power and other impressive resources I had been accustomed to having at my disposal when I had investigated and prosecuted Nazi cases at the Justice Department years earlier. Despite the comparatively meager resources available to us, we plunged ahead in pursuing a labyrinthine evidentiary trail. Over a period of months, we managed to unearth, in archives in Europe and the United States, a large number of pertinent captured wartime documents, including many that named Waldheim or were initialed or signed by him, along with other evidence. Witnesses were found as well, including a former American medic who was the lone survivor of a British-American commando unit captured on the Aegean island of Kalymnos (Calino) and interrogated, according to one of the captured documents, “by Army Group E” on July 17, 1944.

The fruits of that investigative work linked Waldheim ever more closely to Nazi crimes, including crimes committed against Jews. And when I presented each new discovery to Steinberg, he promptly released it to the media, typically accompanied by a statement of outrage about Waldheim’s ever-more incredible denials. Waldheim and his campaign team were increasingly on the defensive. To cite but one example, we found captured documents establishing that Waldheim had signed off on propaganda leaf- lets containing vicious anti-Semitic invective about “the accursed Jews” and “blood-sucking Jews,” including one leaflet that exhorted Red Army soldiers to join the Nazi side. “Enough of the Jewish war,” it proclaimed before reaching its moral nadir: “Come over. Kill the Jews.” Those last three words, Erschlagt die Juden, were an explicit incitement to mass murder.

The investigation also yielded considerable evidence that the Soviet and Yugoslav governments had, for decades, known much of the truth about Waldheim’s hidden past but had kept the facts secret for their own Cold War geopolitical and intelligence purposes, including during Waldheim’s service as Austria’s Foreign Minister and then as United Nations Secretary-General. At a press conference held on June 2, 1986, the WJC released a ninety-one-page preliminary report that I had prepared, which largely attained its goal of helping journalists make sense of the torrent of revelations that we disseminated over the preceding months in unavoidably piecemeal fashion (as we discovered new facts).

One extraordinarily surprising discovery by the WJC arguably pro- vided the single most dramatic moment in what quickly came to be known internationally as “the Waldheim affair.” Postwar documentation we found at the US National Archives showed that Kurt Waldheim had been listed in February 1948 as wanted by— irony of ironies— the UN War Crimes Commission (UNWCC), for murders in which he was said to have participated during his service in Yugoslavia on General Loehr’s staff. A Commission fact-finding committee composed of a Briton, a Norwegian, and two Americans had given Waldheim the UNWCC’s “A” classification, a designation the committee reserved for suspected war criminals whose apprehension was considered to be of the highest priority. Only those per- sons against whom a prima facie case was assembled were branded with that modern-day scarlet letter.

A pitched and very public battle ensued to obtain the release of Waldheim’s UNWCC charge file, which was held under lock and key, like all of the other UNWCC records, by the United Nations Archive in Manhattan. Eventually, I obtained a copy of the still-sealed file from a UN source and the WJC made its incriminating contents public. A successful WJC campaign followed to press the United Nations to open the UNWCC files to researchers; the UN opened the files in late 1987, and scholars have been utilizing them ever since.

Month after month, the WJC continued its campaign of disclosures, with hardly a week going by without a new investigative revelation. The story remained a major focus of international media attention into 1987, and almost always it was the WJC that was cited as taking the lead in pursuing the truth about Waldheim. Those efforts notwithstanding, on June 8, 1986, Waldheim won the presidential runoff, and a month later he was inaugurated as president of Austria. In what was almost universally reported as a diplomatic snub, the US Ambassador to Austria, Ronald S. Lauder, did not attend the inaugural ceremonies. Twenty years later, in 2007, Lauder succeeded Bronfman as WJC President.

Although Waldheim’s election stunned the WJC leadership, the organization did not give up. It did, however, have to identify an attainable goal. Preventing Waldheim’s ascension to Austria’s presidency and fomenting a criminal investigation in Austria were, obviously, no longer achievable objectives. At Elan Steinberg’s initiative, the WJC leadership decided to press for Waldheim to be barred from entering the United States, under a 1978 US immigration statute that rendered participants in Nazi-sponsored acts of persecution inadmissible to the United States. The WJC shared with Neal Sher at the US Justice Department all of the evidence it had amassed, and under his leadership the Office of Special Investigations investigated Waldheim’s wartime whereabouts and actions.

On April 27, 1987, the US Department of Justice announced that the Departments of Justice and State had determined that US law required that Kurt Waldheim’s name be added to the border control watch list on the basis that he was ineligible to enter the United States because “the evidence . . . establishes a prima facie case that Kurt Waldheim assisted or otherwise participated in the persecution of persons because of race, religion, national origin, or political opinion.” Thus, Kurt Waldheim became the first sitting head of state in history to be formally barred from entering the United States. OSI’s lengthy investigative report, detailing evidence found by that office in support of its recommendation that Waldheim be barred from entry, was later released publicly after a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit was brought to compel its release. Illustrative of the report’s damning findings is the following:

The available evidence demonstrates that under established legal principles, Lieutenant Waldheim “assisted or otherwise participated” in the following persecutorial [sic] activities: the transfer of civilian prisoners to the SS for exploitation as slave labor; the mass deportation of civilians to concentration death camps; the deportation of Jews from the Greek islands and Banja Luka, Yugoslavia, to concentration and death camps; the utilization of anti-Semitic propaganda; the mistreatment and execution of Allied prisoners; and reprisal execution of hostages and other civilians.

The 204-page report (available to this day on the Justice Department’s website) noted that “a full opportunity was afforded to Waldheim and his attorney to provide information and to comment on issues” and that “Waldheim took full advantage of this opportunity. Between April and December 1986, Waldheim made seven submissions to the government in an effort to demonstrate that he did not engage in persecutory activities during World War II.”

Unexpectedly, the exposure of Waldheim’s Nazi-era past also precipitated a long-overdue reckoning, in Austria and beyond, with the truth about the country’s own mid-century past. The Waldheim controversy led directly to a belated, and in many quarters anguished, confrontation with the myth, cherished in Austria for more than four decades, that the country had been “Hitler’s first victim,” when, in fact, it was actually his homeland and enthusiastic ally, a nation whose citizens had played a disproportionate role in perpetrating the Holocaust and other Nazi-era atrocities.

On the heels of the Reagan Administration watch list announcement that effectively vindicated the WJC’s position on Waldheim’s involvement in Nazi crimes, the WJC leadership soon commenced a similarly successful effort to persuade other countries to close their borders to Waldheim. In the end, during his six-year presidency, the Austrian Foreign Ministry’s tenacious efforts to secure invitations from foreign governments for official visits by Austria’s controversial president succeeded solely in a few Arab and Muslim capitals and in tiny Lichtenstein. Der Spiegel characterized President Waldheim as a man who “crosse[d] Austria back and forth,” appearing at minor functions to deliver “empty discourses.” Not one major Western head of state visited Vienna during Waldheim’s term of office, so fearful were they of having to decide whether to meet with—or snub—him.

The WJC’s high-profile, successful leadership in the effort to expose Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi past and to win his banishment from Western countries empowered the organization to deal with other challenges as well, including some that it determined were best handled quietly, behind the scenes. There was, for example, the matter of widespread anti-Jewish threats that began appearing on posters and graffiti in the Paraguayan capital of Asunción in the summer of 1986. Paraguay’s tiny Jewish community was terrified, and for good reason. Paraguay was a police state, run with an iron fist by General Alfredo Stroessner, a brutal dictator who reveled in his German ancestry and seemed little troubled by his country’s reputation as a haven for fugitive Nazi war criminals. Indeed, Jewish leadership there had been warned repeatedly over the years that the Jews of Paraguay would pay a steep price— in lives— in the event that any attempt were made to apprehend Nazi criminals hiding in the country. If anti-Jewish outrages were being committed in public now, it could only be happening with the connivance, or at least the tacit approval, of Stroessner’s dreaded secret police. The leaders of the Paraguayan Jewish community desperately, if quietly, reached out to the WJC for help.

We immediately drafted a strongly worded private letter from Bronf- man to Stroessner and within just two weeks, the wave of venomous anti-Semitic agitation came to an end. Stroessner sent a warm, almost obsequious, reply letter to Bronfman, assuring him of his steadfast commitment to ensuring the security of Paraguay’s Jews. A WJC official in Latin America telexed us shortly thereafter to relay the happy news that “Stroessner personally gave orders to put an end to the anti-Semitic wave,” and that his contact in Asunción “is grateful for the WJC intervention, which he considers decisive.” According to the contact in Asunción, “Stroessner enormously fears being accused of being an anti-Semite, because of the repercussions in the United States.” Later, we learned from another of our Latin American representatives that what Stroessner had in mind was the possibility that, as our contact put it, “Bronfman would do to him what he has done to Waldheim.” 

The Waldheim Affair, and the highly effective manner in which the WJC led the successful effort both to expose Waldheim’s Nazi past and to secure significant measures of historical and political justice (but not, alas, juridical justice—Austrian law enforcement authorities refused even to commence an investigation), rocketed the WJC back into the international forefront of Jewish NGOs and restored its worldwide stature, thus achieving the ambitious goal that Elan Steinberg had envisioned for the organization long before the question of Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi-era past first appeared on the WJC’s radar. The experience also greatly elevated expectations, both within and without the WJC, of what the organization could achieve. It correspondingly increased the confidence of WJC leadership in its ability to impact international events and decisions in which important Jewish interests were implicated. Those elevated expectations and that newfound confidence— and especially the credibility that the WJC had regained on the world stage—led directly to the organization’s history-making and highly successful efforts in the 1990s to take on powerful Swiss banks for failing to disgorge the contents of bank accounts that had been opened by European Jews who subsequently fell victim to the Nazis.

For more than twenty years, the WJC’s landmark work in the Kurt Waldheim matter served not only as the hallmark of its belatedly restored capabilities and international leadership, but also as the best known— and perhaps most remarkable—of the many important achievements re- corded by the World Jewish Congress during the Bronfman era.