Adler & Adler, the Bethesda-based publisher of Kurt Waldheim's memoir "In the Eye of the Storm," may remove the book from its catalogue in the wake of this week's published reports that after the annexation of Austria, the former U.N. secretary general belonged to two Nazi groups and served in a command that sent thousands to the death camps.
James and Esthy Adler issued the Waldheim book Jan. 29 after purchasing the rights from British publishers Weidenfeld & Nicolson. "In the Eye of the Storm" was only the second book published by the fledgling house.
The Adlers and British publisher Lord George Weidenfeld are Jewish and are active in Jewish and Israeli affairs.
"We are absolutely shocked," said Esthy Adler yesterday. "We can't condemn the man immediately, but we are just amazed."
The Adlers said they want more information on Waldheim's background before they make a decision to remove the book from their catalogue and recall it from bookstores. They said they have tried to reach Waldheim, but without success.
The reports, which appeared in an Austrian magazine and in Monday's New York Times, said that Waldheim, now 67, was a member of the Nazi "Brownshirts" and served in a German command that sent 42,000 Greek Jews to death camps. The Times quoted Waldheim as saying he never heard until now that thousands of Jews were deported from Salonika, Greece, to the camps during his wartime service there.
Waldheim, who is campaigning for Austria's presidency under the slogan "A Man Trusted by the World," denied the reports and received support not only from Austrian conservatives but from Nazi-hunter Simon Weisenthal, who said he was convinced that there is "nothing at all incriminating" in the charges. Waldheim accused his Socialist political opponents of mounting a smear campaign to foil his chances in the May 5 election.
Esthy Adler, who was born in what is now East Germany, is a survivor of the concentration camps, but declined to talk about that experience for publication. She said that she and her husband want to "consider all the evidence before we make any decisions."
Said James Adler, who is on the executive board of the Washington chapter of the American Jewish Committee: "The last thing we want to do is be the publisher of a proven Nazi. But so far, all we have is allegations. If they turn out to be true, I can assure you, we will act.
"At the time we purchased the American rights, we shared the common understanding of Dr. Waldheim's personal background: that he came from an ant-Nazi family and that his father had been arrested by the Gestapo; that he had no Nazi affiliation; that he was drafted into the German army and his military combat career ended when he was wounded in 1941 on the Russian front."
In his memoir, Waldheim concentrates almost exclusively on his years at the United Nations. A brief early chapter entitled "Survival Course," however, discusses his youth in Austria.
Waldheim describes his father as "anti-Nazi and anti-Anschluss [or union] with Germany." Of his own military service, Waldheim writes: "There was no way to escape military service . . . Able-bodied Austrians of military age had little choice.
"The fact that there were more anti-Nazis in the army than there were in the civil service probably had a lot to do with the relative permissiveness of the army. Although we always had to exercise discretion, at least our disaffection was allowed more scope. Anti-Nazi literature was circulated clandestinely and I read it all. I found several colleagues who shared my views and our long discussions gave us a chance to air our feelings. Sunday mass was always well attended. It provided us with a rallying point and a means of manifesting our opposition to the notoriously anti-religious policies of the regime."
There is no mention in the book of Waldheim's alleged work in 1942 and 1943 for Nazi organizations that later were tied to various war crimes.
In his book's acknowledgments, Waldheim writes: "In the course of writing this book I have come to appreciate the frailty of memory. I shall never aspire to the excellence of Mark Twain, whose memory in his youth was reputed to be so good that he could even recall things that never happened. However, with the help of all those named above and many others unnamed, I trust that I have been able to recall the most important things that did happen."
The Adlers worked in the publishing industry in New York until 1969, when they came to Washington and started the Congressional Information Service in Rockville. The service, which indexes and abstracts the multitude of publications that pour forth from Congress every year, turned into a booming business. The Adlers made a multimillion-dollar sale of the service in 1981 to Elsevier, a publishing house based in Holland.
"Finally, we were able to do what we always wanted to do: start a Washington-based, general-interest publishing house," James Adler said. "We started publishing this year."
Adler & Adler's first book in a list of 21 titles was "Is My Armor on Straight?," a memoir by American University President Richard Berendzen. The Waldheim book came next.
The Adler's have high hopes for "America Can Win," a study of military reform coauthored by Sen. Gary Hart (D-Colo.), and books on toxic-shock syndrome and the Khomeini regime in Iran.
Asked if the Waldheim affair will hurt such a young enterprise, James Adler said, "It sure can't help.