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Shofar FTP Archive File: people/w/waldheim.kurt/waldheim.002

Archive/File: holocaust/austria waldheim.002
Last-Modified: 1994/11/06

From The New York Times INTERNATIONAL Saturday, August 6, 1994, page A2

                        By ALAN COWELL
                special to The New York Times

  ROME, Aug. 5 - Pope John Paul II has drawn Jewish and Israeli outrage,
by conferring a papal knighthood on the former Austrian President, Kurt
Waldheim, who has been accused by the United States Justice Department of
serving with a German Army unit that committed atrocities in the Balkans
during the Second World War.

  The bestowal of the Order of Pius IX in the Vatican's embassy in
Vienna on July 6 seemed a remarkable contrast to efforts at reconciliation
between the Vatican and Israel, which established diplomatic relations
in June after centuries of animosity between Catholics and Jews.

  The Vatican has given no formal explanation of the move, despite a
protest on Thursday by Shmuel Hadas, Israel's ambassador to the Holy
See, who expressed "concern and surprise" that the Pope had conferred
the order on Mr. Waldheim.

  The Order of Pius IX is one of five orders that the Pope may
bestow. The Vatican embassy in Vienna said Mr. Waldheim received the
knighthood in recognition of his efforts for peace during his tenure as
United Nations Secretary General from 1972 to 1980.

Mysterious Ties Seen

  Many Jewish organizations, however, took issue with what seemed
further evidence of an enduring and somewhat mysterious relationship
between the Pope and a man who stands accused in the United States, and
elsewhere of helping Nazi occupying forces in the Balkans.

  Earlier this year, a report by the Justice Department said
Mr. Waldheim had occupied positions of increasing responsibility and
sensitivity, for which he was decorated, in regions where notoriously
brutal actions were undertaken by the Nazi forces in which he served.

  The report accused the former Austrian leader of having served with
units that massacred civilians, executed prisoners and identified Jews
for deportation. Although Mr. Waldheim has repeatedly denied
responsibility for war crimes, the Justice Department called his
disavowals unconvincing. The former Secretary General has been barred
from entering the United States since 1987.

  In that same period, however, Pope John Paul has seemed to brush aside
the international controversy surrounding Mr. Waldheim, who is a
Catholic, receiving him at the Vatican in 1987 and meeting him again
during a pastoral visit to Vienna in 1988.

  Speaking on the Pope's behalf when he bestowed the order on July 6,
Archbishop Donato Squicciarini, the Papal Nuncio -- or ambassador -- in
Vienna spoke of Mr. Waldheim's period as United Nations Secretary
General and told him, "You have effectively contributed to the
development of instruments for the promotion of peace and the avoidance
of conflict as well as for an international policy of development and
the protection of the environment."

  Moreover, he said, Mr. Waldheim had actively pursued Austria's
protection of human rights, help for many refugees and solidarity with
the many problems of the people of the third world, according to
excerpts of his remarks published by the Vienna-based Kathpress, a
Catholic news agency.

  The agency said Mr. Waldheim received the highest level of the Order
of Pius IX -- a knight's cross on a sash -- at the July 6 ceremony,
attended by high-ranking Austrian church and Government officials.

  Austria's 7.6 million popualtion is more than 80 percent Catholic, and
though not as important financially to the Vatican as Germany's
Catholics, Austria's played an important role during the cold war in
supporting co-religionists in Communist Eastern Europe.

  Despite the glowing praise for Mr. Waldheim, the Vatican's handling of
his knighthood suggested that Vatican officials were aware in advance of
the storm that would arise from it.

  The July 6 ceremony was held with little fanfare and took place in
Vienna rather than in Rome. It was not announced in the Vatican's daily
bulletin of papal events. Vatican officials, moreover have been
reluctant to discuss the affair. Asked why the Pope had chosen to confer
the honor, his Spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said, "I have not

  In Jerusalem, the Anti-Defamation League expressed "consternation" at
the honor while Israeli officials were quoted as saying its award
totally ignored Mr. Waldheim's wartime record. The Israeli newspaper
Haaretz called the Vienna ceremony "almost furtive" and said it
suggested that the Vatican "has something to hide.''

Protests on Two Fronts

  According to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Israeli officials in both
Rome and Jerusalem lodged protests on Thursday and demanded an expla-
nation of the Pope's move.

  Mr. Hadas, Israel's ambassador to the Vatican, said he had expressed
his astonishment to Vatican officials when he met them on Thursday to
seek an explanation of Mr. Waldheim's knighthood.

  He said he had registered the feeling among the Jewish population
that, "whatever Mr. Waldheim did during his assignment at the United
Nations, it cannot forgive his record during the Second World War."

  Mr. Hadas said he expected the formal Vatican explanation to be given
within the next few days.

  The Israeli official said the incident would not derail the
rapprochement between his country and the Vatican. "It is not a
contribution to this process, but our dialogue continues," he said.

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