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Born at St. Andrä-Wördern near Vienna Waldheim served as an officer during World War II. In 1945, he surrendered to the English in Carinthia, at which point he said he had fled his command (Heeresgruppe D) where he was serving with General Löhr, who was seeking a special deal with the British. Waldheim joined the Austrian diplomatic service in 1945 after finishing his studies in law at the University of Vienna. He was serving as First Secretary of the Legation in Paris from 1948, and in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Vienna from 1951. In 1956 he was made Ambassador to Canada, until going back to the Ministry in 1960, after which he became the Permanent Representative of Austria to the United Nations in 1964. From 1968 he was the Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs in Austria serving for the Austrian People's Party, before going back as Permanent Representative to the UN in 1970. He was defeated in the Austrian presidential elections in 1971, but successfully negotiated the election to succeed U Thant as United Nations Secretary-General, in 1972, and was re-elected in 1976 despite some opposition. In 1981 his attempt for a third term was blocked by a veto by China, and he was succeeded by Javier Pérez de Cuéllar.
The Waldheim Affair
Unsuccessfully Waldheim had sought to be elected President of Austria in 1971, but a second attempt on June 8, 1986 proved successful. 1986 also marked what is known as the Waldheim affair. Prior to the presidential elections the Austrian weekly news magazine profil revealed that there were a couple of omissions about Waldheim's life between 1938 and 45 in his recently published autobiography. A short time later, it turned out that Waldheim had lied about his service as an officer in the SA-Reitercorps (stormtroopers), a paramilitary unit of the NSDAP (Nazi party) before the war and his time as an ordonance officer in Saloniki ,( Greece) from 1942 to 1943 (especially during the Nazi occupation of Greece many war crimes against civilians are documented). Instead Walheim had stated that he was wounded and had spent the last years of the war in Austria. Speculations arose and allegations of him being involved in war crimes were brought forward.
For the length of his term (1986-1992), he was deemed persona non grata by many countries (e.g., in 1987 he was put on a "watch list" of people barred from entering the United States) so that during the 6 years he made almost no state visits. Notable exceptions were Vatican City, which he visited twice during his term, and the Near East.
Because of enduring international pressure the Austrian government decided to appoint an international committee to examine Waldheim's life between 1938 and 45. Ulimately the committee could not find any evidence of Waldheim being involved in any war crimes, however their final report stated that he must have known more than he was now willing to admit.
Waldheim's behaviour reflects a characteristic feature of the way many Austrians have dealt with their Nazi-history - denial and unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions. Famous got Waldheim's comment Ich habe im Krieg nichts anderes getan als hunderttausende Österreicher auch, nämlich meine Pflicht als Soldat erfüllt (I did not do anything different than hundredthousands of Austrians during the war, I just fulfilled my duty as a soldier).
|President of Austria|
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