Sunday, June 17, 2007

Kurt Waldheim, the "all-powerful lobby" and contemporary anti-Semitism

Refugees from the Kozara massacre, perpetrated in 1942; Waldheim was in Bosnia as an intelligence officer on the staff of the West Bosnia Combat Group of Army Group 12 (later Heeresgruppe E) while Group 12 was helping Croatian fascists carry out the massacre and subsequent deportations of survivors to Croatian camps

In the tenth anniversary year of his 1986 Presidential campaign, Kurt Waldheim sat for an interview with G. Hoffmann-Osterhof of Profil magazine, which appeared in the 17.06.1996 number of Profil under the title "Everyone is Afraid". Here I'm going to give long excerpts from my translation of that interview with some comments of my own. Profil's questions are in italics. The bolding for emphasis is mine.

Keep in mind while reading these excerpts that Waldheim in his posthumous "reconciliation" plea complained mightily that he would like to have take a clear historical stand on the crimes of the Third Reich, even though he still denied having done anything wrong in his Wehrmacht service in the bloody partisan warfare and deportations of Jews, Bosnians and Macedonians in the Balkans. In this 1996 interview, he presumably had the opportunity to express his honest view of such matter.

He even says in his first response below that he believed enough time had passed to deal with these things dispassionately". So presumably, the 1996 interview reflected his dispassionate intellectual understanding of the issues he addresses.

Profil: Herr Doctor Waldheim, the title of your book that has just been published is "Die Antwort" (The Answer). But it contain little beyond that which you have already said in the course of recent years. Why did you really write this book?

Waldheim: I wanted to make a summary presentation of my case. On July 8, it will be exactly 10 years ago that I assumed the office of Federal President. Therefore I thought that enough time had passed to deal withthese things dispassionately. But when you say there is nothing new in it, then I don't share that view. For example, I describe what happened when the President of the World Jewish Congress [WJC], Edgar Bronfman, brought pressure to bear on the American Secretary of State, George Schultz, and the US Attorney General, Edwin Meese, to place me on the watch list. It weighed heavily on the two government officials that the Jewish organizations of the USA gave little recognition to the Republican Administration's services on Jewish concerns. Bronfman merely replied, "Our behavior in the Presidential election of 1988 depends on your behavior." When Meese asked, "And what should we do?", Bronfman declared that it would be a useful signal to place Waldheim on the watch list. That is a kind of pressure that is unusual in international life - especially when it concerns two states that have traditionally had friendly relations.
It's true that the World Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations pressed publicly and privately for Waldheim to be placed on the US watch list, which effectively prevented him from travelling to the US. Waldheim does not mention that Greek organizations in the US were doing the same. He does not site his source for this alleged conversation of Edgar Bronfman with Meese and Schultz.

Hoffmann-Osterhof followed up with a sensible question:

But is it not normal in America that lobbies - Jewish and Arab lobbies, gun lobbies and environmental lobbies and many others - raise their concerns to the government? American politics these days is often described that way. What was so special about that?

The brutal form. I have established serious grounds for that of which I have just spoken.
Waldheim's "dispassionate" response was to duck the question and whine.

In your book, you write about the not merely "powerful" but rather "all-powerful" Israeli lobby, which exerts pressure on politics in America and other states. Perhaps the Israeli lobby has influence, but just how is it "all-powerful"?

We are not experts, but we have at least an insight, because we were compelled to occupy ourselves with it. You need only to read the book by Herr Rosenbaum, the current head of the [US Justice Department's] Office of Special Investigation. Everything is there. Howthe World Jewish Congress was glad that Meese declared himself ready to turn the Waldheim case over to the OSI, while they were thereby spared a lot of work - and above all money - if the investigation was carried out by the Justice Department. That is also something that doesn't come out here in this form - this cooperation. First Herr Rosenbaum was at the Jewish Congress, then he became chief of the OSI - the gentlemen exchange the positions over and over - Neil Sher, Rosenbaum, Sternberg and others.
The book to which Waldheim refers there is Eli MRosenbaum with William Hoffer, Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Kurt Waldheim Investigation and Cover-Up (1993).

Waldheim's repeated references to Rosenbaum's book Betrayal are striking. He later says, "I can only recommend that you read the Rosenbaum book closely." Waldheim gives the impression that the book supports his argument of an "all-powerful" Jewish conspiracy against him.

In fact, Waldheim's comments were more of a "preemptive strike" against the book, which had not been published in a German-language edition at that time (and as far as I can tell from an Internet search, has never been published in German). As an experienced prosecutor and war crimes investigator, Rosenbaum makes a persuasive case that, during Waldheim's wartime service in the Balkans, he was directly implicated in criminal actions including: reprisal killings of civilians, among them the notorious the Kozara massacre in western Bosnia led by the fascist Croatian Ustashi forces; the murder of British prisoners-of-war; deportation of Jews to death camps; transport of Italian prisoners to slave-labor camps after Italy's surrender; and, the authorization of anti-Semitic propaganda leaflets. (One of the leaflets apparently authorized by Waldheim exhorted Soviet soldiers, "Enough of the Jewish war. Come over. Kill the Jews." See p. 338 of the book.) Rosenbaum also paints a highly unflattering picture of Waldheim during and after the 1986 election campaign.

But at that time there were also internal Austrian political aspects.

Yes, of course, the whole thing was first of all an internal political campaign. My political opponents in Austria at that time attempted to destroy my chances of becoming Federal President - and they did very well at it back then. The accusations and suspicions were then passed on to the USA. As a result - this is also in the book by Rosenbaum - they sent a Jewish emissary to Vienna, who met with an Austrian in the Stadtpark (city park).

Evidently with Hans Pusch, the head of the Cabinet of then-Federal Chancellor FredSinowatz...

The emissary is said to have met with him, among others. Therefore the Jewish Congress - as one can read in Rosenbaum - sent someone to Vienna at the wishes of the Lobby here in order to get incriminating information.
What Waldheim says here is consistent with Rosenbaum's account. In his book, Rosenbaum describes how he himself went to Vienna and met with a representative from the Socialist Party (since renamed the Social Democratic Party) who he identifies only with the pseudonym "Karl Schuller." In the following, Waldheim refers to Rosenbaum melodramatically as "the emissary."

As I said in an earlier post, I've never understood why the Socialists felt like that had to do such a cloak-and-dagger routine instead of surfacing the information themselves. For one thing, it did make it easier for Waldheim and his supporters to make the whole thing sound like a sleazy smear campaign.

According to Rosenbaum's account, it was Leon Zelman, director of the Jewish Welcome Service of Vienna and survivor of the Mauthausen and Auschwitz camps, who made the first contact with the World Jewish Congress about investigating Waldheim's wartime past. Rosenbaum describes Zelman as having "played a leading role in achieving a rapprochement of sorts between the Jewish world and the people of Austria." (p. 3)

What is so reprehensible about that?

What concern did Herr Rosenbaum and the Lobby over there have with the Austrian election campaign? The Presidency was an internal political concern of Austria...

With a candidate who was UN Secretary General for 10 years.

It is a generally recognized international principle that one does not interfere in the "domestic affairs" - as it is so beautifully called - in the internal political matters of another country.

Do you now mean the interference of the World Jewish Congress?

In the specific case, I mean the World Jewish Congress. But also seen generally.

But do many organization not interfere in the internal matter so states, for example, Amnesty International and Greenpeace?

I  just think that it should have been a normal election campaign. I was most deeply convinced that I had not committed any crimes and that the accusations against me were unjustified. Three international commissions and institutions examined the charges against me and came to the conclusion that the accusations against Dr. Waldheim were unjustified.
The interviewer keeps challenging Waldheim with what should be obvious, that the things that the WJC did which Waldheim tries to make sound sinister and unusual were actually things that lobbies and various NGOs (non-governmental organizations) do all the time. Waldheim was also one of the most prominent people in the world at that time, having served two terms as Secretary-General of the UN.

Waldheim here applies a typical tactic of anti-Semites and other conspiracy-mongers. He omits the fact that there were many groups and individuals, both inside Austria and out, who were at a minimum concerned about the revelations.

Another aspect of the case that I haven't yet seen mentioned in the obituary summaries involves the fact that some of the material that implicated Waldheim in war crimes were held by the Communist Tito government of Yugoslavia. One questioned raised by the revelations in 1986 was whether Yugoslavia could have been using those materials in some way to blackmail Waldheim when he was Secretary-General of the UN. But, so far as I'm aware, there was never even circumstantial proof that such blackmail occurred. It was only a theoretical possibility. And that element was also not at all central to the controversy.

Waldheim didn't say which "three international commissions and institutions" it was to which he was referring. But the Report of the International Commission of Historians Designated to Establish the Military Service of Lt. Kurt Waldheim, a Commission assembledby Austrian officials with Waldheim's approval, concluded in its report issued February 8, 1988:

The resulting picture is one of varying proximity to criminal measures and orders under the rules of war. ... In general, some guilt must arise simply from knowledge of violation of human rights, when the person concerned - through lack of personal strength or courage - neglects his duty as a human being in intervening against injustices. ...

The Commission has received no indication of any case in which Waldheim raised objection to, protested at, or took steps against an order for an injustice of which he was certainly aware, in order to prevent or at least hinder the realization of the injustice. On the contrary, he repeatedly assisted in connection with illegal actions and thereby facilitated their perpetration. (my emphasis)
The Austrian Press Service responded to the Commission's report with a bold "preemptive strike" on behalf of their President. The day before the report was released, the Service released a statement stating simply that the Commission "found no evidence" of Waldheim's complicity in war crimes. President Waldheim himself said that his role in the war "was the normal fare of a young Austrian." Presumably, this sharply critical report is one of those to which Waldheim refers in this interview as having come "to the conclusion that accusations against Dr. Waldheim were unjustified."

In the following, the Profil interviewer continues to press him on his conspiracy theory about the vaguely-defined Jewish lobby that Waldheim described in his book as "all-powerful":

Nevertheless, you were isolated. How do you explain that such respectable independent newspapers as the "Neue Zurcher Zeitung" [Zurich] and "Le Monde " [Paris] reported on you negatively? Did they also come under the pressure of the Lobby?

Unfortunately, I cannot completely exclude it. Some are coming under this pressure - even until today!

What constitutes the power of this Lobby?

Look who rules in America. Then you will see it.

How is this pressure exercised concretely -for instance, on newspaper editors? Are they appealed to?

It is a worldwide network that is in operation here. It has great power. I can only recommend that you read the Rosenbaum book closely. There are revelations in it. It is emphatically confirmed that this worldwide network is enormously effective. There is also pressure against journalists. Some, that I still know of from my time in New York, have told me that they lost their jobs because they supported me and tried to counter the smears (Verleumdungen).
This is typical anti-Semitic conspiracy-theory talk. Waldheim again ducked the reality-based questions that the interviewer had posed. He didn't name any of the journalists who had allegedly lost their jobs because of supporting him.

In the following passage, the discussion refers to the major exhibition "War of Extermination: Crimes of the Wehrmacht, 1941-1944," which appeared in Hamburg in 1995 and Vienna in 1995-96. The exhibition challenged the tendency to minimize the role of the Wehrmacht, the regular armed forces in World War II, in war crimes and especially in the Holocaust.

The exhibit was very controversial because the popular image of the Wehrmacht in both Germany and Austria was that the Wehrmacht had largely performed as a professional military and had no distinct responsibility for the Holocaust, in particular. Since so many millions of German men had been required to served in the Wehrmacht - including men like Waldheim from the Ostmark (annexed Austria) - there was a particular sensitivity about any implication that simply serving in the Wehrmacht directly implicated a person in war crimes or crimes against humanity. Waldheim made full use of this general sentiment about the Wehrmacht to pose as an ordinary German soldiers who did his duty without committing war crimes.

Although it's not relevant to anything Waldheim says in the interview, the Wehrmacht exhibition received close scrutiny, and was eventually withdrawn from public viewing in order to make a number of corrections in response to some legitimate criticisms from historians, including some photos that were incorrectly identified in the exhibit.

A German speech by Hans-Ulrich Wehler, on of Germany's leading historians, is available online at
Wehrmacht und Nationalsozialismus 27.01.2002, given on the occasion of the reopening of the corrected exhibit. The Hamburg Institut für Sozialforschung has a Web page on the exhibit, Verbrechen der Wehrmacht. Dimensionen des Vernichtungskrieges 1941-1944. An English version is also available.

In your book, you also write in detail about your time in the German Wehrmacht. Recently in Vienna, a much-noticed Wehrmacht exhibition was shown. Did you visitit?


Why not? Didn't it interest you?

I had so many other things to do, and I knew the Wehrmacht.

For those born later, the exhibition was shocking because it shows how the Wehrmacht directly and in the very forefront of its operations in the East and in the Balkans was taking part in the destruction of the Jews. You, by contrast, portray the Wehrmacht very generously as an organization with many anti-Nazis, almost as a gathering point for oppositionists. Isn't there a contradiction?

The deportation of the Jews and their persecution is one of the greatest tragedies of world history. I am the first to regret this, shocked and in the deepest way Yet we didn't know about that. I did not know about the extent of this Jewish persecution - especially during the time of my military service. I first found out about the whole extent of the Holocaust after the war.

But the Wehrmacht provided the logistics for the deportations, and there was from the highest Wehrmacht leadership in Russia the so-called Commissar-Order, in the Balkans "atonement orders, " which directly referred to the destruction of the Jews. You were an information officer...

I never saw such orders.

They didn 't come across your desk?

No. If there were such orders in Russia or elsewhere, then I am shocked and regret it most deeply, because I find nothing more terrible than the persecution of people. If there were such orders, then they were criminal.
In his posthumous "reconciliation" plea, Waldheim wrote:

I regret most seriously that I - under the pressure of monstrous accusations that had nothing to do with my life and my thinking - waited much too long to take a clear and unmistakable position on the Nazi crimes. The reason for that was neither doubtful basic convictions nor any kind of political calculation, but rather the consternation, the offense, even the horror over the content and volume of these accusations.(my translation)
We see in the 1996 Profil interview what his "clear and unmistakable position" on the crimes of the Wehrmacht in service to the Hitler regime were. With reference to the old TV series Hogan's Heroes, We might call it the Sargeant Schultz defense: "I know noth-ink! I see noth-ink!"

In the last part of the published interview, Hoffmann-Osterhof pressed Waldheim for his clear and unmistakable position on the Wehrmacht's criminal actions:

Then the Wehrmacht actually waged a criminal war.

No war is anything good. In our time, we can do only one thing: to help see that such a war is not repeated, that there is no war at all.

Was there a difference between Hitler's war and other wars?

I would say, any war is a terrible experience.
That was Kurt Waldheim. Even in 1996, he was interested only in pandering to the far right. Waldheim's anti-Semitism and his unwillingness to distinguish Germany's war of aggression from any other war will be immediately obvious to most readers. He was probably skirting the borders of Austria's laws against anti-Semitic propaganda in this interview with his nonsense about the worldwide Jewish conspiracy.


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