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Kurt Waldheim; the Nazi who became the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

A Nazi literally ran the United Nations.

Kurt Waldheim became the United Nations secretary-general in 1972. Being from Austria, a nominally neutral country during the Cold War, he was someone the two superpowers of the time, the USA and the USSR, could agree on to act as the head of the UN. It was known that he served in the Nazi army during WW2, the Wehrmacht, but he claimed to have been “pressed into service”, served as a interpreter, never witnessed or participated in any atrocities, and that he was wounded and discharged after a short while. However investigative journalists discovered that his World War II military record was a little bit fudged: He wasn’t, as he claimed, someone who was essentially pressed into service, quickly wounded and then spent the remainder of the war getting his law degree, in fact his real service record was the exact opposite.

Waldheim (in the centre) serving as a Nazi officer during WW2

It was discovered that Waldheim had a significant position as an intelligence officer in the Wehrmacht and was present during war crimes in Yugoslavia and Greece. Robert Edwin Herzstein, a historian and professor at the University of South Carolina, played a crucial role in uncovering Waldheim's Nazi past through archival research. He found that Waldheim was already a Nazi even before the war started. At the age of 19 he joined the National Socialist German Students League - a Nazi youth organization - just a month after the Anschluss. Then in November 1938, he enrolled in the SA, the paramilitary Nazi organization of storm troopers. In 1987 a US Department of Justice report exposed the extent of his involvments in war crimes carried by the Nazi army. The report uncatalogued evidence that proved that Waldheim had taken part in, among other actions: the transfer of civilian prisoners to the SS for exploitation as slave labor; the mass deportation of civilians—including Jews from Greek islands and the town of Banja Luka, Yugoslavia—to concentration and death camps; the utilization of anti-Semitic propaganda; the mistreatment and execution of Allied prisoners; and reprisal executions of hostages and other civilians.

Kurt Waldheim as the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

“The fact that Waldheim played a significant role in military units that unquestionably committed war crimes makes him at the very least morally complicit in those crimes." - Professor Robert Edwin Herzstein. Waldheim was able to hide his past for so long because of the web of intrigue between intelligence services in the Cold War era. By early 1948, the UN War Crimes Commission listed him as a suspected war criminal subject to trial. This was nothing extraordinary, many Nazi officers and German war Criminals were able to expunge or whitewash their criminal pasts and involvement in war crimes and served leading roles in the EU, UN, Western Germany government, NATO and US governmental agencies like the CIA and NASA.

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