Kurt Waldheim (m) during his visit to Finland in 1973 - Photo: wikipedia

Gulyas: Waldheim case helped Austria process its past

Facing up to the case of Kurt Waldheim helped Austrians process their role in the second world war, Gergely Gulyas, the head of the Prime Minister's Office, said at the book presentation on Thursday of Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky's Austria and the Waldheim Case.
29. September 2023 5:37

Vince Szalay-Bobrovniczky, the deputy state secretary for civil and social relations at the Prime Minister’s Office, who previously served as Hungary’s ambassador to Austria, said at the event that the Waldheim case had brought to the fore the idea in Austrian life and politics that “something was wrong” with Austrians’ recall of history and the responsibility they bore for Nazi crimes committed during the war.

Whereas Austria was “wiped off the map” with the 1938 Anschluss — and as a state, it could not take responsibility for the crimes committed in the war — tens of thousands of Austrians participated in Nazi operations and several Austrians were sentenced to death as war criminals in the Nuremberg Trials, he noted.

Waldheim, who headed the United Nations from 1972 and 1982 and then was Austria’s president from 1986 to 1992, himself served in the Wehrmacht and stood accused of failing to accurately account for his activities at that time, he said. Consequently, Austria had to endure global sanctions and became an international pariah.

In the period of Hungary’s change of political system, the country also kept itself aloof from Austria, and this changed after Waldheim’s departure in 1992, Gulyas noted.

He said a similar situation arose when the Freedom Party came to power, adding that this had been “a serious test” for Austrian democracy.

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