Thursday, June 14

Chameleon Man

The first generation of the Nazi legacy is dying out. However, what they did and why they did it may be a 'secret combination' that continues on in spite of the grave ignominiously welcoming them.

Former U.N. Secretary Kurt Waldheim (center in photo) died quietly at home with his family at his bedside. That is not the story, most of us would like to go like that. Austrian Vice Chancellor Wilhelm Molterer said, "We have lost a great Austrian,"; I guess that depends on your point of view.

The World Jewish Congress no doubt has a different perspective, as would perhaps 68,000 (including 23,000 children) silent victims of what is known as 'The Mount Kozara Operation' in 1947 Yugoslavia. Waldheim's signature appeared on various documents which verified that his unit killed civilians and partisans. His commander, General Alexander Loehr, was later executed for war crimes. Yet Waldheim went to his grave today denying he did anything more than what was "necessary" to survive the war. He was just following orders. Orders which he wanted others to believe had nothing to do with atrocities; he claimed no knowledge of mass human transport to death camps and the like.

The story is Technicolor Hollywood for sure; intrigue, crimes against humanity and a spectacularly successful effort to hide one's black past to rise to positions of power and prestige. Specifically, chief of the world's only international peace-keeping body, the United Nations. He not only achieved this post, but served admirably from 1972-81. There's a nice photo of him meeting with Golda Meir at her home in Jerusalem.

His Nazi former-life didn't catch up to him until he was exposed during a 1986 run for the Austrian Presidency. Even then, he denied all. Eventually he revised his resume to acknowledge being places in uniform, but never admitted wrongdoing. The United States responded by banning him from ever stepping foot on American soil again.

Did I miss the movie? Where's Clint Eastwood? Did this guy have charisma, or what? How did he do this? How did he get away with murder and preside successfully over something hugely ironic like the U.N.? More importantly, what are the possibilities that a former war criminal actually regretted his participation in evil, and resolved to do everything in his power to not only hide this sin, but attempt restitution? Waldheim was either appallingly arrogant, or desperately determined to be a different man. The Story here is which was which. Glaringly evident against a 'born-again' transformation is one thing: a confession.

He could have simply coasted along as a normal person, or accomplished much good in the past 60 years very quietly, without seeking public office and increasing risk of exposure. Was he just rubbing it in our faces? Or did he really hope to wash the blood from his hands through service to world peace? Maybe he was just forgetful about his nondescript Nazi duties - y'know, many jobs take on the numbing lull of routine after a while...

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