Former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim dies at 88 - World Jewish Congress

Former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim dies at 88

15 June 2007

The disgraced former Austrian president and secretary-general of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, has died in Vienna at the age of 88. Austrian media reported that Waldheim, hospitalized last month with an infection, died of heart failure. When Waldheim’s Nazi past was exposed in the 1980s, he was banned from entering the United States. Waldheim had previously concealed his wartime service in the Balkans, saying his military career ended in 1942, after he was wounded on the Russian front. But more than four decades later, the World Jewish Congress successfully challenged his assertions by producing documents, eyewitnesses, photographs, medals and commendations given to Waldheim, and by proving that his signature was found on documents linked to massacres and deportations.

The UN War Crimes Commission listed him as a suspected war criminal subject to trial. Yet no government pressed to bring Waldheim to account or even to reveal his history. Waldheim served two terms as UN secretary-general, from 1972 to 1982. It was not until he later ran for the office of Austrian president that his Nazi past became widely known. During his election campaign, the World Jewish Congress produced the evidence for Waldheim's involvement with Nazism as a student and his wartime role in the Balkans. Nonetheless, he was elected Austria's president in 1986, and he remained in denial about his wartime activities until his death. His stuck to the phrases “I only did my duty” and “I cannot remember”.

The president of the World Jewish Congress and former US ambassador to Austria, Ronald S. Lauder, said: “The death of Kurt Waldheim closes a chapter in the history of a troubled era.  Fidelity to the truth requires we never forget the details of the Waldheim controversy, but it must also be acknowledged that Austria and her people have done much to move on even before this day.  While work remains, advances on restitution and progress in community relations represent real progress.  So, at this time of passing, we should recall the difficult times but we should have confidence in the future. “