Kurt Waldheim's election as president of Austria shocks all Jews and most Americans as a shameful example of Austria closing its eyes to Waldheim's Nazi officer past. What many people fail to understand is the history of Austria and its effect on the Austrian populace.
The vast majority of the Austrian people were enthusiastic supporters of Hitler and Nazism. When the Nazis marched into Austria in 1938, they were met by cheering parades and a supportive population.
Only in the latter part of World War II did the Allied powers recognize Austria as an opponent of Hitler, and even then it was motivated more out of a desire to keep it out of the Soviet bloc rather than a sense of historical accuracy.
Waldheim wasn't elected despite his Nazi past, but rather because of it. Postwar Germany faced its past, and denounced it. Postwar Austria has never had to undergo such a painful but necessary self-examination, and its 1986 election of one of Hitler's officers as president shows that for many Austrians their past is not something to feel too guilty about.