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Waldheim Report Produces Conflicting Views

February 10, 1988|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

VIENNA — The official report on the wartime activities of Austrian President Kurt Waldheim became something of a political football Tuesday as partisan officials interpreted it in conflicting ways.

The report, prepared by an international commission of historians, was submitted Monday and indicated that Waldheim, a lieutenant in the German army during World War II, was aware of war crimes committed by his unit in the Balkans but that there was no evidence that he personally committed any war crimes.

Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, leader of Austria's Socialist Party, said at a news conference Tuesday that he will not demand Waldheim's resignation because of the critical passages in the report, even though "many people in our country and party will be embarrassed."

Vranitzky said it is not up to him to decide Waldheim's future but "to the person concerned."

Vice Chancellor Alois Mock, like Waldheim a member of the conservative People's Party, staunchly defended the president. He said that the report absolves Waldheim of "all personal complicity."

Simon Wiesenthal, the well-known Nazi hunter who makes his home in Vienna, described as a "catastrophe" Waldheim's failure to resign immediately.

"Dr. Waldheim must have known what was right and what was wrong," he said.

One of the historians on the commission, Yehuda Wallach of Israel, said he has been embarrassed by the way various commentators have interpreted the report. He denied a report that he had told Israel Radio that he thought there was enough evidence in the document to justify "juridical proceedings" against Waldheim.

'We Presented Facts'

"I am not a lawyer," Wallach said. "We presented facts. What is done with the facts is a matter for the Austrian government."

Wallach and another commission member, Manfred Messerschmidt of West Germany, objected to statements made by the commission chairman, Swiss historian Hans Rudolf Kurz, to Waldheim that the report showed he was "without personal culpability."

This description was cited by Waldheim in a nationwide television address Monday as meaning that the commission had absolved him of any war crime guilt.

The two historians said the phrase represents Kurz's personal assessment and is not the language of the report.

"The report explains itself," Messerschmidt said of the 202-page document, which was not made public until Tuesday.

The report did not cite a single example of Waldheim taking any action or ordering any action that could be considered a war crime. But the panel found that Waldheim had lied consistently until he was confronted with evidence to the contrary about his service as a German army staff officer in the Balkans from 1942 to 1945.

However, the report says that Waldheim must have been aware of the large-scale German deportation of Jews from Greece and partisan families from Yugoslavia.

The historians said they could not accept that Waldheim, based near Salonika, the second largest city in Greece, was not aware that the 50,000 people in the Jewish community, one-fourth of the city's population, had been deported during the general period of his service there.

They said that as recently as two weeks ago, Waldheim told them that he knew nothing about the deportation of Jews from the area.

The historians were generally less critical of the role that he might have played than of his insistence that he knew nothing about atrocities or war crimes committed in the Balkans during his service there.

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