Birthday: December 21, 1918
Died At Age: 88
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Born in: Sankt Andrä-Wördern near Vienna, German Austria
Famous as: Former President of Austria & UN Secretary General
Spouse/Ex-: Elisabeth Waldheim
father: Walter Waldheim
children: Christa, Gerhard, Lieselotte
Died on: June 14, 2007
place of death: Vienna
education: University of Vienna, Diplomatic Academy of Vienna
Who was Kurt Waldheim?
Kurt Josef Waldheim was an Austrian politician and diplomat, who went on to become the Secretary General of the United Nations and also served one term as the President of Austria. Waldheim was a member of the Austrian Army for some time in his youth before he enrolled at the Vienna Consular Academy. During the Second World War, Waldheim had claimed that he was busy studying law at the University of Vienna but in reality he was a member of the German Army that had occupied Austria during those years and it was a fact that made his position untenable as the president of the country, as his past affiliations with the Nazis threatened to completely derail all diplomatic processes. However, before he became the President he had been a career diplomat for Austria and served at several important positions including that of the permanent representative of Austria at the United Nations. Waldheim also served as the Foreign Minister of Austria before going on to serve as the Secretary General of the United Nations for two terms over a period of nine years. His tenure was particularly notable for his diplomatic efforts in Middle East and Africa.
Childhood & Early Life
Kurt Waldheim was born on 21 December 1918 in a village named Sankt Andra-Wordern, located close to Vienna, Austria to Watzlawick and his wife. His father was of Czech origin and was employed as a Roman Catholic inspector of schools. Following the fall of the Habsburg Monarchy, his father changed the family surname to Waldheim.
Sufficient information is not available on Waldheim’s childhood and his schooling. Waldheim worked for the Austrian Army for a year from 1936 onwards and subsequently he attended the Vienna Consular Academy, from where he graduated three years later.
In 1938, Austria was annexed by Germany and Waldheim became a member of the Nazi party affiliated National Socialist German Students’ League. Subsequently he entered the paramilitary division of the Nazi party known as the SA and later on was drafted into the German Army.
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Waldheim served the German army as a squad leader in Russia in 1941 and after being injured in combat; he returned to action the following year and served in the Balkans for the next three years. Although Waldheim had stated that he was engaged in studying for a law degree at the University of Vienna during the Second World War, war documents showed that he had indeed been in the German Army.
Waldheim became a member of the Austrian Diplomatic Service in 1945 and one of his earliest positions was that of the Secretary of the Legation in Paris, France. Six years after entering the diplomatic services, Waldheim started working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Vienna and held the position for four years.
In 1955, Waldheim was the leader Austria delegation to the UN and the following year he was chosen as his country’s representative as the minister plenipotentiary in Canada. Subsequently he became the Austrian ambassador to Canada and served in the position for four years. After his stint in Canada, Waldheim was appointed as the director general of political affairs in the foreign ministry of Austria.
He was appointed as the permanent representative of Austria at United Nations in 1964 and four years later he was made Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, a position he held for two years. Subsequently, he resumed his position in the UN as the permanent representative of his country.
He contested for the Austrian presidency in 1971 as a representative of the People’s Party but did not get success. The following year he became the secretary general of the United Nations and remained in the position for nine years, totalling two terms. Waldheim’s two terms as the UN Secretary General saw the organisation taking missions for peacekeeping to places like Nicaragua, Bangladesh, Guatemala and Cyprus among others. He was also involved in diplomatic efforts in the Middle East.
In 1980, he personally went over to Iran in order to negotiate the release of American hostages but he was refused an audience with the Ayatollah Khomeini. The previous year he had also become the first UN Secretary General to have set foot in North Korea. A year later, Waldheim could not get a third straight term since China wanted to install a candidate from the third world as the UN Secretary General.
On 8 June 1986 he was elected as the President of Austria, but revelations made in the Austrian publication ‘Profil’ regarding his past as a member of the Nazi party made bigger news. It became known as the ‘Waldheim Affair’ and throughout his tenure as the President he could not get much work done as his past became a sore point in diplomatic circles. He did not forward his candidature for re-election after his five year tenure was over. An enquiry by the Austrian government concluded that Waldheim was aware of Nazi war crimes even though he had denied any involvement or knowledge.
Awards & Achievements
Kurt Waldheim was bestowed with a knighthood known as Order of Pius IX by Pope John Paul II in 1994.
Personal Life & Legacy
Waldheim got married to Elisabeth Ritschel on 19 August 1944. They were married for 2 months short of 63 years. They had two daughters named Lieselotte and Christa and a son, Gerhard.
Waldheim died on 14 June 2007 due to heart failure in Vienna, Austria.