Former Austrian President with Nazi Past Kurt Waldheim Dies

The former Austrian president and UN chief Kurt Waldheim has died. Waldheim was elected president in 1985 despite an international scandal about his secretive World War II military service for the Nazis.


The former Austrian president and UN secretary-general Kurt Waldheim in 2004.
DPA

The former Austrian president and UN secretary-general Kurt Waldheim in 2004.

The former Austrian president and United Nations secretary-general, Kurt Waldheim has died at the age of 88. Waldheim had been elected Austrian president despite an international scandal about his secretive World War II military service for the Nazis.

Waldheim died on Thursday after a short but severe illness. According to his son-in-law, Waldheim had suffered heart failure. He is reported to have died at home with his family at 12:45 p.m. local time.

He had been admitted to Vienna's General Hospital at the end of May due to an infection, and spent some time in intensive care.

Waldheim's tenure as UN secretary-general from 1972-81 and his 1986 election as Austria's president were overshadowed by the revelations that he had belonged to a German army unit based in the Balkans during World War II.

After the war he joined Austria's foreign service and was the Austrian ambassador to the UN. From 1968 to 1970 he served as Austria's foreign minister.

During the election campaign for the presidency in 1985, accusations emerged that he had served as an officer in a German army unit that had committed wartime atrocities.

Waldheim's always denied knowledge of any Nazi atrocities, but his concealment of his military service and his later assertion that he and other Austrians had only done their duty led to an international outcry, and Austria's isolation for many years. During his tenure as Austrian president he made hardly any state trips and he was treated as persona non grata by the United States. He was prohibited from traveling there for the rest of his life.

While supporters in Austria saw him as the innocent victim of a smear campaign, his opponents called for his resignation because of the huge loss of prestige for the country caused by his election. He opted not to run for a second term in 1992 and retired from politics.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer expressed his "deepest condolences" on hearing the news of Waldheim's death and officals lowered the flag to half-mast outside the president's office on Thursday afternoon.

smd/ap/reuters

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