Controversial Former Statesman Kurt Waldheim Dies | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 14.06.2007
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Europe

Controversial Former Statesman Kurt Waldheim Dies

Former UN Secretary General and one-time Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, died on Thursday at the age of 88, Austrian media reported.

Head shot Kurt Waldheim

Kurt Waldheim was at the center of a scandal after revelations about his past

The former statesman whose reputation was tarnished by revelations over his Nazi past was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack in May.

Waldheim was UN chief from 1972 until 1981. Five years later, he was elected president of Austria amid charges that he belonged to a German army unit that committed atrocities in the Balkans during World War II.

His denials of any wrongdoing failed to stop him becoming a virtual outcast on the international diplomatic stage.

International outcast

The photo shows former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, center in Wehrmacht uniform at a meeting on May 22, 1943, at an airstrip in Podgorica, Yugoslavia.

This photo of Waldheim was published by the World Jewish Council


Israel recalled its ambassador from Austria and boycotted his inauguration as president. The United States put the Austrian president on its "watch list" of potential undesirables in April 1987 while scores of other countries snubbed him.

Increasingly isolated internationally and at home, he fell back on responses also given by many former Nazis: "I was only doing my duty" and "I have only obeyed orders."

Waldheim also refused to resign and served out a full term as president. But he did not stand for a second term in 1992.

The controversy first erupted in March 1986 when an Austrian newsweekly published a photocopy of his 1939 German army service record revealing that he had been a member of the SA, the Nazi party's political militia, since 1938, the year Austria was annexed by Germany.

"I did not speak or want to speak much about the war years," he said. But this "was certainly not a strategy of deceit."

Further accusations

United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim calls on former Israeli Premier Golda Meir

Israel later shunned Waldheim

The World Jewish Congress, the New York Times and other newspapers published a series of wartime documents during his campaign for the presidential elections casting doubts on his account of his activities.

They included accusations that he was involved in crimes against Yugoslav partisans and in the deportation of Jews from Greece in 1942.

Waldheim said he did not remember his whereabouts in the critical 1941-44 period: according to his autobiography he was wounded on the Russian front in December 1941 and "ended his law studies in Vienna in 1944," leaving a blank of over two years.

He later said that he served as low-ranking army officer without real authority in the Balkans and was posted in Yugoslavia and Greece.

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