Israel Gets Access to Secret Waldheim File
Israel has been granted access to the secret file on former Secretary General Kurt Waldheim in U.N. War Crimes Commission archives, officials of the world body said Friday.
Francois Giuliani, a top aide to Javier Perez de Cuellar, the current secretary general, said access would be granted with the understanding that the documents are “confidential and will be handled on the same basis of confidentiality as any other material being used in a criminal investigation.”
Israeli Ambassador Benjamin Netanyahu said the file should “clear the air” of charges that Waldheim was involved in Nazi atrocities during World War II. Netanyahu vowed that his country will take quick action if the charges are substantiated.
Netanyahu said his request for access to the Waldheim file was answered with “admirable promptness.” He said he expects the file to be available early next week.
“There are ample reasons now to take a look at those files, to clear the air once and for all,” Netanyahu told a news conference.
“If there is something there, let’s find out; if there isn’t, let’s find that out too,” he said.
“If the charges are substantiated in the material found in the file, then the government of Israel will take a clear-cut action on the matter,” he said. Netanyahu would not elaborate on what action may be taken.
The ambassador said he will personally examine the file, probably with another government official designated by Israel.
Netanyahu warned, however, that the material on Waldheim is just “one file and one source” and may not represent all the biographical data on the former U.N. chief executive. He said the charges are “serious enough” for his government to request the opening of the file.
“It is clear that Mr. Waldheim was not fully candid about his past,” Netanyahu said.
Waldheim’s statements about his war record have conflicted. In his book “The Challenge of Peace,” published in 1977, he wrote that he suffered a leg wound on the Russian Front and was medically discharged in 1941.
“By the time I was repatriated in 1942, it had become impossible to leave the country,” he wrote. “I was permitted to resume my studies toward a doctorate in law, which I obtained some two years later.”
The accusations were made public by the World Jewish Congress on March 25. The organization said Waldheim returned to service in March, 1942, as a staff officer in the German army unit commanded by Gen. Alexander Loehr, who was hanged for war crimes in Yugoslavia in 1947. Loehr was accused of the massacre of Jews in Yugoslavia and Greece.
In Vienna, Waldheim reiterated his vehement denial of the charges against him and accused his political opponents in upcoming presidential elections of trying to use the allegations to discredit him.
Waldheim, a candidate for president in Austrian elections next month, served as the U.N. chief executive from 1971 to 1980. He has denied any involvement in Nazi war crimes.
“This scandal campaign . . . has collapsed upon itself,” Waldheim said. “There is nothing in the prevailing allegations and accusations that is justified.”
At a news conference in New York on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres said he would “not like to pass judgment yet” on Waldheim.
“There are some very specific questions to be answered,” Peres said of accusations against Waldheim. “I would want to wait until seeing all relevant documents before making a judgment.”
Files Stored in Vault
The United Nations inherited about 40,000 sealed files from the World War II Allied War Crimes Commission, which was set up to help track war criminals and was disbanded in 1948. The files are stored in a vault in New York City.
The United Nations has opened the files of only three Nazis-- Adolf Eichmann’s at the request of Israel, and Klaus Barbie and Josef Mengele on the request of the United States.
Eichmann was captured in Argentina and tried and executed in Israel in 1962. Barbie is imprisoned in France awaiting trial, and Mengele’s body was found in a grave in Brazil last year.
The Israeli request asked for access to the file and “any other relevant material stored at the U.N. archives by the War Crimes Commission.” It was the first attempt by any government to seek evidence of allegations that Waldheim was linked to Nazi war crimes while serving as a German officer in World War II.