Ex-Austrian President Waldheim, new film

This 28 February 2018 video says about itself:

The Waldheim Waltz‘: Berlin Review. Director: Ruth Beckermann. Austria. 2018. 93 minutes. There’s little waltzing in The Waldheim Waltz.

By Stefan Steinberg in Berlin, Germany:

68th Berlin International Film Festival—Part 3

The Waldheim Waltz: A timely film about the World War II role of former Austrian president

20 March 2018

In 1938, shortly after the German annexation of Austria and prior to the war, Waldheim joined the National Socialist German Students’ League, affiliated with the Nazi Party. He later became a member of the SA (Nazi “Brownshirts”) Mounted Corps.

During the war, Waldheim served on the staff of German Army Group E, which specialized in brutal anti-partisan operations in Greece and Yugoslavia from 1942 to 1945. In this capacity, as early as March 1943, he became part of the German military administration in Thessaloniki. Army Group E was involved in the deportation of the city’s Jewish population to destruction in concentration camps. At that time, Jews constituted a third of the total population of the city.

Remaining silent on his activities at that time, Waldheim was able to pursue a successful political career after the war. He was Austria’s foreign minister from 1968 to 1970, General Secretary of the United Nations from 1972 to 1981 and Austrian president from 1986 to 1992. Waldheim’s lies and obfuscations regarding his past were symptomatic of the response of the entire Austrian elite.

As Beckermann points out in the interview below, after World War II Austrian authorities claimed the country had been a victim of Hitler, and emphasis was continually placed on the number of Austrian casualties in the war (including all the Austrian citizens who had fought alongside the Nazis). This version of history effectively blotted out the country’s role in the Holocaust. It was the Austrian establishment’s big lie.

The truth about Waldheim’s role in the war emerged from research undertaken by the World Jewish Congress (WJC), based in America. As a young woman, Ruth Beckermann was a member of the initially small group of activists in Austria who politically intervened and recorded Waldheim’s election campaign. Beckermann’s own video footage from that time of meetings for and protests against Waldheim is combined with carefully selected recordings of testimony by members of the WJC, television interviews with Waldheim and many others involved in the campaign.

In the increasingly heated atmosphere of the election campaign, supporters of Waldheim fiercely defended their candidate and became increasingly hostile to those, including Beckermann herself, calling upon him to address his wartime collaboration with the Nazis. The aggressive reaction by Waldheim supporters also included openly anti-Semitic jibes and threats.

In 1996, Beckermann released her film East of War (Jenseits des Krieges) dealing with a related subject—the 1995 “German Wehrmacht Army Exhibition” (Wehrmachtsausstellung), the first such event in postwar Germany to deal with the crimes committed in World War II by the German army. The exhibition travelled to 33 German and Austrian cities and attracted some 800,000 visitors.

In that documentary Beckermann interviewed visitors to the exhibition who either had experienced or were involved in Nazi war crimes. She noted in her film journal at that time, “Looked through the film material so far. Here they are again, the men that I filmed during the Waldheim campaign ten years ago.”

Now, more than thirty years later, Beckermann’s new film assumes burning importance under conditions where the ultra-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) now governs the country in alliance with the conservative Austrian Peoples Party (ÖVP).

I spoke to Ruth Beckermann:

Stefan Steinberg: Could you explain the significance of your film about Kurt Waldheim in relation to Austria’s postwar history?

Ruth Beckermann: Following World War II, Austria claimed it had been a victim of Hitler. It was the country’s big lie. Part of this lie was masking the role played by Austria in the oppression of the Jews. I remember as a small child a neighbour showing me a menorah, the traditional Jewish candle holder. He said it had been given to him, but I knew even at that young age it was obviously part of the property stolen from Jews who had been sent to the camps.

Such things were common knowledge in Austria after the war, but nobody said a thing. The Waldheim affair was the first time all this came to the surface. It had an enormous impact.

There had been rumours before about Waldheim’s past, for example in the 1960s, but the publicity surrounding his presidential campaign in 1986 made it possible to conduct an important debate about his role, and the role of Austria under the Nazis. It also revealed the extent to which anti-Semitism still prevailed.

The timing of the affair was significant. 1986 also marked the beginning of the political ascendancy of Jörg Haider [1950-2008], leader of the fascist Freedom Party. It appears the gradual eclipsing of one right-winger, Waldheim, opened up opportunities for another.

The difference is that Haider openly acknowledged Austria’s role in the war, while Waldheim sought to cover it up. When he was no longer able to deny the allegations made against him, Waldheim responded in the well-known manner, i.e., that he had only been doing his “duty.” [In an interview with the ORF national television network in March 1986, Waldheim claimed, “I did nothing during the war that was not also done by hundreds of thousands of Austrians, that was my duty as a soldier.”—Steinberg].

For Waldheim, this was true. His family had deep roots in the Austrian People’s Party [actually, its predecessor, the Christian Social Party] before the war. If Waldheim wanted to make a political career in the party then he had to accommodate to the Nazis.

Stefan Steinberg: In the film we witness the extraordinary statement in defence of Waldheim by the Social Democratic [SPÖ] leader and one-time Austrian chancellor Fred Sinowatz.

Ruth Beckermann: If you examine the political parties and main institutions, the police, the army, the judiciary, there was a broad continuity in terms of personnel from the period of the war, and that included the SPÖ. That explains why the Social Democrats provided political cover for those conservatives who contended that Waldheim’s service in an SA cavalry unit didn’t make him a Nazi. When confronted with the charge of Waldheim’s collaboration, Sinowatz declared on television, “Waldheim wasn’t a Nazi, only his horse was.”

Stefan Steinberg: What was the role of the US in the Waldheim affair?

Ruth Beckermann: Washington sought to use the Waldheim affair to undermine the United Nations. It was a period of decolonisation. Nations had freed themselves from their old colonial rulers and could express themselves for the first time at the United Nations.

The PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] was active at the time. Under these conditions, the US administration sought to use the case of Waldheim to undermine and discredit the UN as a whole. In 1987, the US Justice Department announced it was putting Waldheim on a watchlist, meaning that he could not enter the US.

Stefan Steinberg: Your film is very relevant to the current situation, where the current Austrian government is a coalition of the ÖVP and the far-right Freedom Party. Leading German newspapers have been supportive of the new coalition, arguing that the Freedom Party is now mainstream.

Ruth Beckermann: The Freedom Party is not mainstream. It’s not true. It is the extreme right. At the start of the year one of the ministers in the new government, Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, went so far as to say he wanted refugees and asylum seekers to “concentrate at one place.” He said they should be “concentrated” into special centres. [This was seen as a reference to concentration camps.]

At the time of the first Austrian government involving the Freedom Party, in 2000, there was broad condemnation of the party led by Haider, including from the European Union. Now nobody says anything. Viktor Orbán [far-right Hungarian prime minister] has been to Vienna to meet up and make plans with the new government. The Freedom Party has taken over key ministries and is developing politics for the future. It is a dangerous situation.


Austrian right-wing politician’s song advocating ‘gassing Jews’

Election propaganda by Austrian neofascist party for their candidate Udo Landbauer. Photo: Robert Jäger / APA / picturedesk.com

This photo shows election propaganda for Austrian far-right politician Udo Landbauer of the FPÖ party. The slogan on the poster says, translated: New force for OUR fatherland!

Today, there is news about him.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

Austrian politician under fire because of Nazi song

In Austria, scandal has arisen about FPÖ [racist party in the present right-wing Austrian coalition government] politician Udo Landbauer. At the student fraternity where he was vice-chairman, anti-Semitic songs are sung.

The Viennese newspaper Falter received the songbook of student society Germania.

Translation of lines in one of the songs in that book, on page 182, according to the Falter article and to Wikipedia:

Then the Jew Ben Gurion came into their midst: Give it some gas, you old Teutons, we will make it seven million

The NOS article continues:

The Nazis murdered 6 million Jews in the Second World War and about 5 million other people [a very conservative estimate], including Roma and Sinti and disabled people. In other songs Hitler’s conquests, the Wehrmacht [Hitler’s armed forces] and the Waffen-SS are glorified.

The next stanza in the page 182 song of Landbauer’s fraternity says (translated from the Falter article and Wikipedia):

A gooky Chinaman stepped into their midst. We too are Indo-Germans and want to join the Waffen-SS.

The NOS article continues:

Police search

Landbauer (31) has been a member of the ‘Burschenschaft’ (traditional German student association) Germania for sixteen years, but denies that he ever saw this song. President Alexander Van der Bellen does not believe him. “The members must have known what is in that songbook”, he says.

Austrian police have searched Wednesday evening at the association and seized nineteen songbooks. It is being investigated whether anyone can be prosecuted because of incitement.

‘Politician not prosecuted’

The Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl, also FPÖ, has said that he virtually excludes any prosecution of Landbauer. The opposition has responded with anger. “In a democracy, the Public Prosecution Service carries out the investigation, not the minister”, said politician Max Lercher (SPÖ).

In Austria, a coalition of the conservative ÖVP and the right-wing populist [‘populist’ is a wrong term by journalists too scared to use more correct terms like ‘racist’] FPÖ has been ruling since mid-December. The FPÖ was founded by former Nazis and came into the news with various Nazi scandals. These are always dismissed by the party as exceptional cases. Also from national party leader Strache photos surfaced in uniform and between neo-Nazis.

Austria to dissolve Nazi songbook fraternity linked to Freedom party. Move follows discovery of lyrics mocking Holocaust and celebrating Nazi atrocities: here.

VIENNA (Reuters) – Austria’s main Jewish body (IKG) will boycott a parliamentary Holocaust commemoration event because of the rise of the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) which entered government last month, the IKG’s chief said on Thursday: here.

An Austrian Jewish leader worries Israel may be embracing the far right. Netanyahu’s ‘realpolitik’ weakens European Jewry, Ariel Muzicant argues, vowing to fight any attempt by Jerusalem to normalize ties with Freedom Party. By Raphael Ahren, 23 March 2018, 6:45 am.

USA: WASHINGTON (JTA) A Pennsylvania Republican congressman running for the Senate was interviewed by and appeared at an event with Holocaust deniers, CNN reported: here.

‘Boycott new right-wing Austrian government’

This AFP video says about itself:

Protests in Vienna against new coalition government

18 December 2017

More than 2,000 demonstrators take to the streets in Vienna ahead of the inauguration of Austria’s new coalition government of the conservatives and the far right.

From Politico:

Open letter urges boycott of far right in Austrian Cabinet

A group including former French and Spanish foreign ministers calls for action against ‘the fatal ideology of hatred.’

By Judith Mischke

12/29/17, 12:05 PM CET

Updated 12/30/17, 3:54 AM CET

A group including former European foreign ministers is calling for a boycott of Austria’s new, far-right Cabinet members, referring to them as the “heirs of Nazism” and criticizing “silence and apathy” on the issue.

In an open letter published in French newspaper Le Monde on Thursday, former Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell and others urged European leaders to take action.

“Let’s not turn our eyes away: The heirs of Nazism have come into power in the new Austrian government,” the letter states. “We are all concerned as we are all being threatened by the fatal ideology of hatred.”

The letter comes in response to newly sworn-in Chancellor Sebastian Kurz forming a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) after October’s election, making Austria the only Western European nation with a government that includes an anti-immigrant, populist force. The FPÖ nominated six Cabinet members, including the leaders of the defense and interior ministries.

The letter’s authors called on national leaders to refuse to attend meetings with or receive FPÖ ministers, and also urged politicians to “boycott” Austria’s control of the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union next year between July and December.

Other signatories on the letter include Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president of East Timor, José Ramos-Horta, as well as Serge and Beate Klarsfeld, who are known for their investigation into and prosecution of Nazi crimes.

Another signatory is Benjamin Abtan, president of the European Antiracist Movement (EGAM).

An assault on the people of Austria. The right-wing conservative coalition is planning attacks on workers, the unemployed, tenants and asylum-seekers, while entrepreneurs have reason to celebrate. SIMON LIODL reports.

Austrian Jews To Boycott Holocaust Ceremony If Far-Right Ministers Attend: here.

Austria’s new xenophobic government

This video says about itself:

The European Risk of Austria’s Anti-Immigrant Policies

19 December 2017

Austria is setting a bad example in Europe with its new anti-immigrant policies, which soon could spread throughout the continent.

Racists in Austrian government, Israeli and Jewish reactions

This video says about itself:

18 December 2017

Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Vienna on Monday to decry the recently formed Austrian government coalition with the far-right Freedom party.

Protesters marched through the streets whilst holding banners and chanting. Anti-riot police were present and on high alert, as smoke grenades were set off on the streets.

From daily Haaretz in Israel:

Israel to Boycott Austria’s New Far-right Cabinet Ministers

The move is being defined as temporary until an official policy is crafted. Political sources: Netanyahu’s office inclined to accept Freedom Party’s statements that it has broken from its anti-Semitic roots

Noa Landau and Ofer Aderet Dec 18, 2017 8:09 PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the foreign affairs portfolio, said Monday that Israel will boycott Austria’s far-right ministers, instructing Israeli ministers to work only with lower-ranking officials.

Seeking to cool ties with the Austrian government were officials at the Foreign Ministry, while officials at the Prime Minister’s Office were inclined to accept statements by the far-right Freedom Party that it has broken with its anti-Semitic roots, political sources said.

The new Austrian government took office Monday following two months of negotiations between Sebastian Kurz, the new chancellor and head of the center-right People’s Party, and Heinz-Christian Strache, whose Freedom Party came in third in the October election after the People’s Party and Social Democrats.

When Strache’s party joined a coalition government in 2000, Israel recalled its ambassador and downgraded relations. But this time the response had been slow.

A statement released Monday at the close of discussions between the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office said that “Israel will conduct working relations with civil servants in the ministries now led by Freedom Party ministers …. Israel seeks to stress its responsibility to fight anti-Semitism and to commemorate the memory of the Holocaust.”

In an interview with Austria’s ORF television on Monday evening, Strache was asked what he thought about Israel’s decision to reexamine its position on its relations with the Austrian government in light of Strache‘s Freedom Party’s presence in the new government. He replied that “the situation today is different than when Israel took steps in 2000, recalling its ambassador and halting contacts between the governments.”

Strache is the successor of the Freedom Party’s longtime leader Jörg Haider, who died in a car accident in 2008. The party’s critics say it has still not disassociated itself from its Nazi and anti-Semitic roots. Some [of] its supporters greet its leaders with a Nazi salute,

This video is from an Austrian TV report. Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the extreme right FPÖ, is welcomed to a Salzburg election meeting by supporters shouting: “Heil Hitler”!

and Strache once posted an anti-Semitic political cartoon on Facebook and adorned a campaign poster with a slogan with Nazi overtones.

But in recent years, Strache has tried to portray himself as a friend of Israel. He has promised to move Austria’s embassy to Jerusalem and has supported Israel’s construction of settlements in the West Bank.

Because his hatred of Muslims is even stronger than his hatred of Jews. The United States neonazi pro-Trump site The Daily Stormer advocates gassing all Jews. Yet, they applaud Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. Because they think it will lead to more Arabs killing Israeli Jews, and to the Israeli army killing more Palestinians and other Arabs. And whether dead people are Jewish or Arab, killing them is ‘good’ according to neonazi twisted logic.

He has visited Israel at least three times in recent years … But on his most recent visit last year, former President Shimon Peres refused to meet with him, on the recommendation of the Foreign Ministry.

Analysis: Netanyahu’s Speedy Absolution for Austria’s neo-Nazis. In the past, for a state to be forgiven for its anti-Jewish past, it would have to publicly repudiate its sins, but not so with Israel’s stance on the new Austrian government: here.

Netanyahu in practice helped nazi Shoah deniers by exculpating Hitler of guilt for the Holocaust.

From the Jerusalem Post in Israel, 18 December 2017:

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress – which was among Jewish groups that had called on Kurz not to include the FPÖ in his government – was vocal in his concern over the new coalition. …

In a statement released Sunday, he congratulated Kurz as “a capable man who has shown very positive attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people.” He said, however, that it was “severely disquieting that, despite the many real concerns known and expressed about the FPÖ, it will now retain a position of serious influence, giving the Austrian government a real push even further to the Right.” …

“The FPÖ is a far-right party whose members have in the past expressed xenophobic and antisemitic sentiments. Yet it has now been charged with overseeing the interior, defense, and foreign ministries, three of the most important and powerful fields of government,” Lauder continued. “We have heard promises since the election that FPÖ has softened its policies, but this will remain rhetoric until actual proof of this is shown.”

The European Jewish Congress echoed this sentiment. “The FPÖ has a long history of antisemitism and xenophobia and we are concerned about the fact that they will control government ministries in the new Austrian Government,” Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the EJC, said Monday. …

The Freedom Party can not use the Jewish community as a fig leaf and must show tolerance and acceptance towards all communities and minorities”, Kantor added.

In an email sent after the elections, Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Communities of Austria, wrote that the Jewish community, as well as the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress, called on Kurz not to include the FPÖ in the next government because “many representatives of the FPÖ,” including Strache, have “used antisemitic codes, made extreme right-wing statements and have promoted hatred and racism,” including during the recent electoral campaign.

The letter also stated that several of the party’s candidates have in the past “called for the elimination of legislation against Holocaust denial.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews also expressed “deep concern” on Monday over the coalition agreement.

The board’s senior vice president Richard Verber said: “The far Right brought unprecedented misery on Austria and other European countries in the past. It is up to all European countries, including the new government of Austria, to make sure it does not do so again in the future.”

“We fully support the position adopted by the Austrian Jewish community, European Jewish Congress and World Jewish Congress of non-engagement with the far Right in Europe,” he added. “While some parties claim to have disavowed their antisemitic and racist roots, actions speak much louder than words. We urge the European Union and other international partners to carefully monitor the situation in the coming weeks and months and respond as appropriate.”

The new Austrian government includes five ministers and a vice-chancellor affiliated with the FPÖ. To date, Israel has maintained a non-engagement policy with the FPÖ due to its Nazi past and the antisemitic and racist leanings of some members.

From AFP news agency:

Last month a group commemorating Nazi camp victims published a list of what it said were at least 60 anti-Semitic and racist incidents involving FPÖ figures since 2013.

“If they really changed their ideology, it is a question they can only answer themselves,” said analyst Alexandra Siegl. “I would say they changed their tactics and their strategies mainly.”

Extreme right in Austrian government, British comment

 Newly sworn-in Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, left, and new vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Monday, December 18, 2017


Fascists in Vienna

TWELVE months ago Europe’s left sighed with relief after Alexander Van der Bellen, a Green, saw off the far-right Freedom Party’s (FPO’s) Norbert Hofer to become president of Austria.

The respite has been short-lived, with Mr Van der Bellen approving at the weekend a coalition deal that brings the fascists into government in Vienna after all.

A media that has been at pains to downplay the resurgence of far-right politics across Europe likes to avoid the word fascist. It tends to term the FPO “right-wing populist” …

Like most far-right groups, the FPO affects a populist anti-Establishment stance, one belied by its pro-privatisation and tax cuts economic policies and its willingness to go into coalition with the conservative People’s Party.

But these are hardly adequate terms for a party founded by an ex-nazi who was an officer in the SS during the second world war.

Its hostility to immigrants is extreme, and it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to work out that when its leader Heinz-Christian Strache — now vice-chancellor of the Austrian government — called earlier this year for “zero and minus immigration,” he meant deportations and the expulsion of people of foreign origin.

The FPO has said — again this year — that “fascistic Islam” must be banned, claims “Islamification” is a terminal threat to the Austrian way of life and wants to outlaw “Muslim symbols.”

In the deal it has struck with the People’s Party, it takes control of Austria’s defence, interior and foreign ministries.

Surely Europe should be up in arms about this power-grab by a gang of xenophobic racists?

Not a bit of it. The march of the radical right across Europe is not confined to Austria.

Le Pen, who saluted the FPO’s new status as “excellent news for Europe” on Saturday, came second in the French elections, after all — and the man hailed as the saviour of liberal Europe for beating both her and the left seeks to rule by decree rather than through parliament and has legislated for a permanent state of emergency granting extraordinary powers to the police.

The FPO’s momentum is mirrored by that of the AfD in Germany, the Italian far-right are increasingly breaking into asylum centres and even attacking newspaper offices, xenophobic governments in Warsaw and Budapest are stamping on the opposition and Ukraine has become a playground for openly neonazi paramilitary groups.

Brussels is happy to wink at the rising tide of filth — European Council president Donald Tusk is already pushing for even harsher treatment of refugees fleeing war and genocide in the Middle East — so long as the fascists are on board with Permanent Structured Co-operation (Pesco), the “European Defence Union” hailed by Jean-Claude Juncker as a stepping stone to the joint EU military to “fight the resource wars of the 21st century” … .

Austria’s enthusiastic support for Pesco will end the country’s official neutrality — as it will for Ireland — further embedding both countries into the aggressive Washington-led Nato alliance.

It is no coincidence that Britain, where Labour’s appeal has been revolutionised by Jeremy Corbyn, has the weakest far right in Europe, or that a recent Financial Times poll of attitudes in Austria, France, Italy, Germany and the UK found the lowest (while still worryingly high) levels of Islamophobia here.

There is no defence from the far right in Establishment institutions. This is a battle for the left.

Thousands protest as fascists sworn into government in Vienna: here.

The entry Monday of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) into the Austrian government marks a political turning point for all of Europe. In a country traditionally seen in the post-World War II period as part of Western Europe, where anti-fascism became a pillar of the official state ideology following the crimes of Hitler’s Third Reich, politicians with close ties to the neo-Nazi scene and ultra-right circles are wielding power. The police, military and intelligence services are all controlled by FPÖ ministers: here.