Austria should be denazified. It is long overdue. Attorney General Edwin Meese III can begin the process by putting the name of Kurt Waldheim, candidate for the presidency of Austria, on the "watch list," the roll of suspected war criminals who are barred by law from entering the United States. The Office of Special Investigations at the Justice Department has recommended it. The Senate concurs.
We bear some of the onus for Austria's amnesia about its Nazi past. In an effort to coax Austria away from the Axis, we designated it "Hitler's first victim." In fact, Austria was not invaded; it was annexed by Nazis who were welcomed wildly by the natives, including Waldheim, former U.N. secretary general. He joined a Nazi student union and volunteered for the storm troopers -- he says now, "to protect my family."
Austria always waltzes away from any discussion of its anti-Semitism and its weakness for Hitler. The Germans, under our prodding, have studied their war crimes. They teach Hitler in their schools, take their children to Dachau.
The Austrians, by contrast, pretend it never happened. No war criminal has been prosecuted in Austria since the end of the Allied occupation.
Waldheim simply hollers "slander" when the World Jewish Congress, which is on his case, unearths yet another document that proves yet another lie on his part. In his memoirs, he wrote that he bade farewell to arms in 1941, after being wounded. In fact, papers in the National Archives show that he served for three years on the staff of Gen. Alexander Loehr, who presided over the massacre of Yugoslavian partisans, hostages and Jews and who supervised the deportation of 60,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece. Waldheim says he has no idea that villages were being burned and women and children executed by the thousands. The deportation from Salonika? He missed it entirely.
The World Jewish Congress has presented evidence that Waldheim received a medal for "merit under fire on the battlefield" after a particularly bloody slaughter. He says it was a unit citation; he was just an interpreter.
He makes the sickening claim, "These allegations help me."
He also says, "I am you." He may be right. He came within points of winning the election Sunday and faces a runoff. There are still 100,000 Austrians who served as officers in the Nazi army and who are equally unwilling to be reminded of their service to Hitler.
Waldheim has not apologized for what he did. He has not apologized for lying about it. He regrets the "dirty" war and points out that the Germans suffered losses, too, showing a disgusting evenhandedness.
This week, the anniversary of the Holocaust is being observed. Elie Wiesel, its haunted, gifted chronicler, says, "The victims died not only because of the killers. They died because of the indifference of the others."
The words are particularly apt at a moment when Austrians are demonstrating their indifference to history's greatest crime and seem on the verge of choosing as their leader a willing participant.
Nuremberg formulated the doctrine of individual responsibility. It was never more powerfully or movingly shown than in a half-hour documentary on PBS, "The Courage to Care."
It makes all of us who watched it ask what we would do under such pressures and terrors. A handful of European non-Jews answered the question unhesitatingly. At the risk of being hanged, shot or gassed, they took in Jews and sheltered them because they were human beings, because, as one of them says, "You cannot kill, murder people just because of their race or religion."
The most pulverizing passage is about a Polish woman who was a Nazi major's housekeeper. She hid 15 Jews -- "they were my friends" -- in the cellar of the officer's villa. One day when she has come back from the public execution of a Polish family and the Jews they harbored, she is sitting in the kitchen with five of the Jewish women, and the major comes in on them. "Why did you do this?" he asks. And she answers, in a voice that trembles as it must have 40 years ago, "I have had to do it."
Did Waldheim, wearing a Wehrmacht uniform, have to do what he did? Did he have to lie about it for 40 years?
Israel Singer, who has been leading the World Jewish Congress search for the real Kurt Waldheim and who has waded through "3,000 pages of deception," says it is Austria's business if it wants to elect a Nazi as president.
But he wants Meese to put Waldheim's name on the watch list now, so that Austria will know that it is, like the Holocaust, the world's business, too.