JERUSALEM — A man who says he saw Kurt Waldheim beat his brother and another Jew during World War II charged Sunday that the newly elected Austrian president personally supervised the deportation of nearly 2,000 Jews from a village in northwestern Greece to Nazi concentration camps in 1944.
Moshe Mayuni, a Greek Jew who now lives near Tel Aviv, said that Waldheim, then a lieutenant in the German army, came to his village of Yanina in northwestern Greece on March 24, 1944, to supervise the detention and transportation of the 1,860 Jews living there.
The Jews were sent over the next two days to a makeshift detention center at Larisa in central Greece, from where most were eventually transported by train to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland and other slave labor camps from which most never returned.
"He (Waldheim) was the central figure in this. He was in charge. In every area of Greece they sent someone to gather up the Jews, and he was the one in charge in our place," Mayuni said in a telephone interview with The Times.
'I Could Never Forget Him'
"I am sure it is the same man," he added. "I could never forget him. I saw him twice, once in our village when he came to supervise our detention and a few days later in Larisa, where he confiscated our valuables and beat my brother and another man on the head with a club for not following an order."
Waldheim, the former U.N. secretary general who Sunday was elected president of Austria, has repeatedly denied allegations by world and U.S. Jewish organizations and Israeli officials that he knew about or was involved in Nazi war crimes during service in Greece and Yugoslavia during World War II.
But Mayuni's recollections of the activities of the German officer he maintains was Waldheim are believed to constitute the most serious, detailed and explicit allegations to date that Waldheim not only knew about Nazi war crimes but personally participated in them.
Israel, reacting to Waldheim's election, issued a statement through the Foreign Ministry expressing "deep regret and disappointment" at the results of the Austrian elections.
"Though Waldheim's election did not come as a surprise, we hoped until the last minute that common sense would prevail with the Austrian people and the election of a man with a past like Waldheim's to the presidency would be prevented," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.
Government sources said that Prime Minister Shimon Peres will meet with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir today to discuss a further Israeli response, which could include downgrading diplomatic relations with Austria. "The options being discussed at the moment range from recalling our ambassador for consultations to recalling him period," a senior Foreign Ministry source said.
Certain It Was Waldheim
Recalling events of 42 years ago in considerable detail and without apparent hesitation, Mayuni said that several German officers, including Waldheim, landed near his village in a seaplane on March 24, 1944. "We didn't know who they were but we saw them," Mayuni said, adding that the officer who appeared to be in charge was the man he is now certain was Waldheim.
"They rounded us (the Jews) up the next day and took us in vehicles to Larisa," a town about 110 miles away in central Greece, "where they had set up a detention center at a former Greek army motor pool," Mayuni said.
"There we saw him again, the same person who was with the plane. He was tall, thin, with a big nose and he limped very slightly, as though his leg had been injured."
Mayuni said that all the prisoners from Yanina were lined up and made to file past five straw baskets in which the officer instructed them to drop all of their gold jewelry and other valuables.
"He said to us that where you are going, you will need nothing. He said we must put all our valuables in the baskets, watches, rings, chains, earrings, everything," Mayuni said.
"The baskets were like the kind you put apples in, and after we had finished they were all full of gold," he recalled. "Then after he had gathered everything, he turned to my brother Baruch, who was next to me and told him to take the baskets to his car. But my brother did not understand him. He didn't understand his German. I didn't understand either at first and only later realized what he wanted."
The tall, thin officer wore "well pressed" clothes and carried a club, "a round wooden club that he took from under his arm and hit my brother with over the head twice," for not obeying him, Mayuni said. "He also hit the man standing next to him. My brother passed out and the other man bled profusely," he said.
Mayuni identified the other man who was beaten as Yehoshua Matza, who now lives in Beersheba, Israel.