Man of the Century | Paul Greenberg | June 22, 2007

Kurt Waldheim is dead. It says so in the New York Times, and doubtless in all the other official records-from his death certificate to his extensive resume. His papers were always in order, his career well documented: law degree, University of Vienna; a string of diplomatic posts culminating in his appointment as Austria’s foreign minister; secretary-general of the United Nations; president of Austria.

There was no need to go into detail and mention his service in the Balkans as an intelligence officer with the Wehrmacht’s infamous 714th Infantry Division. Together with its Croatian accomplices, the 714th conducted a murderous campaign against partisans in and around Kozara in western Bosnia. A talented paper-pusher even then, Lt. Waldheim also saw service in Montenegro and Macedonia, where he did similar work.

Then there was his time in Greece at Salonika. Its Jewish community of some 60,000 souls was “relocated” to Auschwitz, ending a history that went back to the time Jews fled there to escape the Spanish Inquisition. Kurt Waldheim would later say he was stationed on a hill outside town at the time, and never saw anything out of the ordinary. The disappearance of a third of the city’s population must have been hard to miss, but maybe he thought all those boxcars were a commuter line.

That whole chapter of his life never made it into Herr Dr. Waldheim’s curriculum vitae. For public purposes, the story was that Lt. Waldheim had been wounded on the Russian front in 1942, and then sent back home to get his post-graduate degree. His service in the Balkans was blanked out. A modest man, he never mentioned that his name was inscribed on his division’s honor roll, or the decoration he’d received from Croatia’s fascist regime. Why call attention to himself?

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