12 April 2013

Artur Phleps and Kurt Waldheim at Yugoslavia

Image size: 1600 x 1035 pixel. 333 KB
Date: Monday, 22 March 1943
Place: Podgorica, Montenegro, Yugoslavia
Photographer: Unknown

SS-Obergruppenführer und General der Waffen-SS Artur Martin "Papa" Phleps (with briefcase, Commander of 7. SS-Freiwilligen-Gebirgs-Division "Prinz Eugen") with Italian and German officers, March 1943 (some sources said as May 1943). From left to right: Italian commander Escola Roncagli; Leutnant Kurt Waldheim; Oberst Hans Herbert Macholtz, and Artur Phleps. Note in background a former Ala Littoria transport biplane Breda Ba.44 "militarized" and employed by Italian Regia Aeronautica for liason in Balkans and from Albania to Italy. The tall German officer is Austrian-born Kurt Waldheim (last rank Oberleutnant), who at this time was serving as Ordnance Officer and Interpreter/Liaison Officer (primarily with Italian forces) for German Army Group E (Heeresgruppe E), commanded by his fellow Austrian, Luftwaffe Generaloberst Alexander Löhr. Heeresgruppe E was held responsible for the reprisal killing of a fair number of civilians in this period, which led to Löhr being convicted of war crimes and executed by the Yugoslavs in 1947. Waldheim was luckier; he surrendered to the British (with whom he seems to have been negotiating on Löhr's behalf), and went on to a glittering diplomatic career, serving for 10 years as Secretary General of the United Nations, and 6 years as President of Austria! Waldheim attempted to hide his service between 1942 and 1945 (he had been invalided from the Eastern Front following a wound in 1941, and claimed to have been permanently discharged) and, when the beans were spilled (by the declassification of CIA files and Holocaust investigators), claimed to have had no knowledge of any massacres or illegal killings. This was quite possibly true; in any event, as a mere Oberleutant, there was little he could have done about them. In any case, the revelations - attended by much media exaggeration as to Waldheim's alleged role in war crimes - effectively ruined his Austrian Presidency, and cast what was, perhaps, an unfairly bad reflection on his period of service as UN Secretary General. In 1986, four years after his tenure as the UN Secretary General, Waldheim made a bid to lead his native Austria. During his presidential campaign, the press released documents indicating that he had, contrary to his claims, been aware of and perhaps involved in war crimes, including the deportation of Jews to death camps in World War II. For decades, the charming, worldly diplomat insisted that by serving in the German Army, he was protecting his family; and that he never even knew that the Jews of Salonika — who accounted for one third of the city’s population – were being shipped off to Auschwitz. But as an adjutant on the staff of Alexander Löhr, an Austrian General who was executed for war crimes, Waldheim must have known more than he admitted. Waldheim nonetheless denounced the scandal as a conspiracy to defame Austria, and as directly motivated by the UN’s denunciation of Zionism as racism during his tenure. Selective memory, on Waldheim’s part and on many Austrians’ part, would prove to be very dangerous indeed: some of his own generation felt that he was, like them, simply a man who had been conscripted into the Nazi German army and forced to serve. His utterances, “Ich kann mich nicht erinnern” (“I cannot remember”) and “Ich habe nur meine Pflicht getan” (“I only did my duty”) resonated. They saw the attack on him as an attack on Austria. They did not want outsiders telling them whom they could or could not vote for. For many Austrians, Waldheim’s tales — no matter how tall they seemed to outsiders — aligned with their own recollections, and he won the election in a nation that remained unsure how to confront its demons. While Germany bore the brunt of the blame for the Holocaust, other villains and collaborators slipped away unnoticed. In a country of less than seven million, there were more than 500,000 registered Nazis in Austria at the end of the war. Austrians were greatly overrepresented in the SS and among concentration-camp staff. Over 38% of the members of the Vienna Philharmonic orchestra were Nazis, compared with just 7% of the Berlin Philharmonic. Jane Kramer notes in her book "Europeans" (1988) that although most Austrians today have never met an Austrian Jew, polls repeatedly show that about 70% of Austrians do not like Jews and a little over 20% actively loathe them. A poll by the London Observer, conducted shortly after Waldheim came to power, revealed that almost 40% of Austrians thought the Jews were at least partly responsible for what happened to them during the war and 48% of Austrians still believed that the country’s 8,000 remaining Jews — about 0.001% of total population — still enjoy too much economic power and influence. Media quickly termed the inability to remember what you did during the war ”Waldheimer’s disease”. An international panel concluded that Waldheim was not guilty of any war crimes, but seriously cast doubts of his claims of ignorance. It also pointed out that he was guilty of lying about his military record. In his memoirs Recht, nicht Rache, Simon Wiesenthal, the Jewish Nazi hunter, devoted a whole chapter to the Waldheim affair, noting Waldheim was neither a Nazi nor a war criminal. Regardless, Waldheim became a pariah on the world stage. His European neighbors had shunned him, and in 1987 he was put on America’s ’Watch List’ of undesirable aliens — a signal humiliation. Thus, he became the first leader of a friendly nation to be barred from entering the U.S. He decided not to seek re-election for a second term, and quietly faded away.


No comments:

Post a Comment