Inside File: Israelis demand a Kurt reply

ISRAEL has instructed its envoy to the Vatican to demand clarification of why it awarded Kurt Waldheim a papal knighthood a few weeks ago.

I hope the Israeli ambassador has more luck than I did in prising from the Holy See the real reason why a former Austrian president and lacklustre United Nations chief who covered up his service in Hitler's army should be made Knight of the Order of Pius IX for his 'safeguarding of human rights'.

Such a knighthood, Vatican sources say, has to be approved by the Pope personally and happens 'very rarely'. It was conferred on Mr Waldheim on 6 July, almost two years to the day after he left his post as president of Austria. Why now?

Consider this: Austria, under Mr Waldheim's presidency, was one of the first countries to recognise Croatia after the break- up of Yugoslavia in 1991. That recognition had deep roots in the Roman Catholic Church. Mr Waldheim himself has old Croatian connections; he was awarded an honour during the Second World War by Ante Pavelic, the wartime Ustashe leader. The Pope was the only Western head of state to receive Mr Waldheim officially while he was Austrian president. The Pope, as part of a forthcoming peace mission to the former Yugoslavia, is now planning a trip to Croatia and Bosnia. He is not going to Belgrade.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said this week that israel was 'shocked, amazed and astonished' at the Vatican gesture and added: 'It seems those who bestowed this honour preferred to forget his record in the Second World War. His service as Secretary-General of the UN cannot hide this past.'

The Holy See press office yesterday insisted it had 'no information' about the citation and directed any queries to the Papal Nuncio in Vienna. An aide to the nuncio who conferred the knighthood in a private ceremony, Donato Squicciarini, said his office was not prepared to discuss the matter but referred instead to the nuncio's 6 July speech. This cited Mr Waldheim's 'efforts for peace' and 'safeguarding of human rights' during his time as UN secretary-general.

At the United Nations, Mr Waldheim is remembered as one of the least impressive and most unpopular secretaries-general the body has had. One former colleague recalls: 'He seemed mostly preoccupied with getting a job in one of the departments for one of his relatives, who had no qualifications whatsoever.'

The Vatican has never had a policy of imparting information or motivation for its actions. As one close observer put it: 'They might tell you to go and read the cathechism, that is as much of an explanation you'll get.' What is more surprising is that its civil service, the Curia - which has some of the most skilful and well- informed diplomats in the world - should have agreed to bestow the honour in the first place.

Israel and the Vatican established full diplomatic ties only in June. 'It seems so odd, now that the Vatican has said it was going to be so nice to Jews and everything,' said one Jewish rights activist whose entire family was rounded up in Salonika - where Mr Waldheim served - and taken to Auschwitz and Dachau.

This is the man who even a historians' commission appointed by the Austrian government concluded that, as an intelligence officer in the German army in the Balkans, had eased the way for Nazi atrocities. Independent investigations show he also eased the way for British officers to be shot. In 1987 he was banned from entering the United States as a private citizen, and remains so to this day.

Rabbi David Rosen, the Anti-Defamation League official responsible for relations with the Vatican, said that while the Holy See may use Mr Waldheim as an envoy for Ostpolitik, it 'still seems rather odd that the Curia with its exceptional diplomatic skills has laid itself open to these accusations, that will not be swept under the mat'.

Those who have dealt with the Pope directly over the past year say he does seem tired, but never for a moment to the extent where he appeared not to be in control. What harm this will do to the infant of bilateral relations depends on the explanation the Vatican gives to the Israeli envoy, Shmuel Hadas, over the next few days. 'But,' said an Israeli diplomat, 'there is no room for this act - regardless of the factor of whether or not we have full relations.'

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice