Mostly a Liar

Years after most of his countrymen had forgotten the affair - and perhaps forgotten him, too - Waldheim still carried the burden of the accusations that he had tried to hide his war crimes. He still had the urge to explain everything again from the beginning.

His service as an intelligence officer in the Nazi Wehrmacht in the Balkans and in Thessaloniki in Greece was clearly still haunting him.

He repeatedly stated, as he had countless times before, that he had murdered no one and knew nothing about the murder of the Jews. Without being asked, he said he was sorry for having refused to wear a skullcap when he visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority), truly, that was a mistake, he had already apologized for it in the past, he wishes to apologize again to the Jewish people, to Israel, to me.

It occurred to me that he would have given a great deal to have his picture taken somewhere wearing a skullcap.

The leaders of the World Jewish Congress, who tried to prove that Waldheim was personally involved in murders, managed to prove only that he had concealed details of his military service. Therefore, it may be said that Waldheim died a liar, not a murderer. A few of the congress chiefs who conducted the campaign against Waldheim have since been forced to retire shamefacedly, charged with corruption. So perhaps it is time to reexamine their real motives for trying to destroy Waldheim's career.

One way or another - whether he was a murderer or just a liar - they managed to make his life miserable until the day he died. That was his punishment.

Upon his death Waldheim was described as a "great Austrian." The truth is that, since Hitler and Eichmann, there hasn't been another Austrian who caused so much damage to Austria's name in the world.

However, the controversy over his election for president prompted a courageous and interesting national soul-searching, following which Austria managed to sever itself from the legend that it had no part in the Nazi crimes. A young generation of "new historians" began investigating their country's past, and today the Austrians no longer conceal their past from themselves.

Paradoxically this may have been the best thing Waldheim did for his country.