In your May 24 editorial, you profess a failure to understand how the Austrian people could have elected Dr. Kurt Waldheim to be their president despite the fact that his wartime record had "come out" beforehand. You strongly imply that, because they have elected a man whom you have already sentenced without evidence or trial, it is they who are guilty of choosing evil and they who have cast a "shadow" over 40 years of good relations between the United States and Austria.
This is an outrageous calumny. The Austrian people (a majority of whom belong to the Socialist Party, rather than to the conservative People's Party of Waldheim) elected him because they simply did not believe the accusations made against him and bitterly resented the malicious interference in their affairs by his accusers. They knew full well that a 25-year-old first lieutenant on the headquarters staff of an army group (tens of thousands of men) could never have been in a position to order the burning of villages or the execution of hostages. Many of the thousands of Austrians who served honorably as officers in the German Army feel that they, like Waldheim, can now be branded as war criminals for alleged atrocities committed by other members of their "units" far removed.
Most Austrians can easily forgive Waldheim for having lied in his memoirs about returning to his university studies after being wounded on the Russian front; many of them, particularly those young men who aspired to a public career during the dark days of the four-power occupation, found it politic and even necessary to hide any mention of service in the German Army.
The Austrian people pride themselves not only on their international neutrality, but on the stability and workability of their own democratic government. Their capital, Vienna, is the seat not only of several important agencies, but of the initial staging area for all Jews who emigrate from the Soviet Union. To exclude their democratically elected president from the United States on unsubstantiated charges and to question their motives in electing him will cast a shadow over U.S.-Austrian relations for far longer than Kurt Waldheim remains in office. -- Emmett B. Ford Jr.