Austrian news magazine Profil made the allegations about Waldheim’s war
record in March 1986, his response was robust: “I did my duty like
hundreds of thousands of other Austrians. This is about a large-scale
campaign of defamation. You will find nothing. We were decent.”
Austrians were supportive of their President. Opinion polls even
revealed that his popularity among his countrymen increased as a result
of the accusations. There was no shortage of defenders in his native
land including, perhaps surprisingly, the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.
of his presidency between 1986 and 1992, state visits by Waldheim were
blocked in most countries, although he was welcome in some Arab states.
He was also controversially received in the Vatican on two occasions.
During his presidency, the US barred him from setting foot in the
country because of his war record. When Waldheim was elected Austrian
President in 1986, Israel recalled its Ambassador.
obscure his service in the Wehrmacht. His account implied that a wound
he received fighting in the Soviet Union in 1941 led to the end of his
military career. He in fact went on to serve in the Balkans, including
a spell as a lieutenant, stationed close to Thessaloniki from where
thousands of Greek Jews were deported to their deaths. He denied all
knowledge of the transports despite having been stationed just 6 km
away. There were also accusations concerning his role in anti-partisan
activity in Yugoslavia.
to investigate his wartime activities concluded in 1988 that he knew
about the war crimes but played no part in them. The historians later
admitted removing a reference to his “moral guilt” from the report.
to call into question Austria’s respectable post-war image. After the
war, the allies treated Austria as a victim of Nazi Germany, and
Austria is widely seen as having made much less of an attempt to
confront its wartime past than Germany. “If my life story has
contributed to a new approach to history, then it is positive – of
course, at the price of damage to me personally,” Waldheim told the
Austrian daily Der Standard last year.