Jerry Kopel


This time of year the Colorado legislature traditionally gets the Holocaust Resolution memorializing the murder of six million Jews. In most years, its presence and passage doesn't make headlines or stir controversy.

Of course, people still discuss the Holocaust Resolution of 1991 which, like its predecessor in 1990, mentioned the deaths of homosexuals among the millions of others murdered by the Nazis. What created no friction or comment in 1990 produced headlines in 1991.

But this column is about the Holocaust Resolution of l988 (or rather, the "non-resolution" of l988) and how newspaper accounts in March of 1994 helped resolve the controversy surrounding that resolution.

It all began when the Colorado Anti-Defamation League asked Rep. David Bath to introduce the l988 resolution. Its language was non-controversial. At about the same time, the National Association of Jewish Legislators forwarded a resolution adopted by the New York Legislature which condemned Austrian President Kurt Waldheim for war crimes and urged his resignation from the chiefly ceremonial presidential position.

The organization wanted to present the Chancellor of Austria, in Vienna, with a packet of similar resolutions from a number of legislatures. Rep Bath added language from the New York resolution to the Holocaust Resolution and it was introduced as HJR 1031 on April 8, l988.

The furor over Waldheim came about after a yearlong investigation by the Reagan Dept. of Justice resulting in the U.S. State Department placing Waldheim on its "Watchlist" in l987.Officially, Waldheim's name went on an Immigration and Naturalization Service list that is used to exclude people seeking to enter the U.S. At the time there were about 40,000 names on the list, but Waldheim became the first foreign head of state to be barred under the law.

The barring of Waldheim was approved by Attorney General Edwin Meese and Secretary of State George Shultz. The Justice Department report concluded Waldheim had assisted and otherwise participated in deportation of Jewish prisoners to death camps and the execution of Allied prisoners. But while the summation was released, the actual 204-page report was not.

The Denver Post, in an editorial shortly after Waldheim's exclusion from the U.S., reported on demands within Austria for Waldheim's resignation and his refusal to do so, concluding: "Waldheim, after all, has made a career of moral cowardice. But decent Austrians cannot rest until they have removed the stain of Waldheim from their national honor."

The reference to Waldheim in HJR 1031 did make it controversial. It passed the House 56 to 5 on April 9, in time for Holocaust Awareness Week, which began April l0.

Then events took an unusual turn in the Colorado legislature. The Austrian government sent Austrian Counsel General Nikolaus Scheck from Los Angeles to Denver. His mission was to remove Waldheim's name from the resolution.

Counsel General Scheck set up shop in House Speaker Bledsoe's office and began meeting individually with Colorado legislators. Scheck provided them with a book entitled "Kurt Waldheim's Wartime Years" a white paper rebuttal by Waldheim which he also supplied to the Department of Justice during their investigation.

The significance of the meetings, their location and tacit approval of the lobbying activities by House leadership was not lost on legislators who met with Scheck. As reported by Berny Morson in the Rocky Mountain News:

"The visit may mark the first time a foreign power has expressed an interest in any of the numerous non-binding resolutions on international relations approved each year by the Colorado legislature."

HJR l03l was not voted on in the Senate for three weeks after its arrival, long after the end of "Holocaust Awareness Week" and with plenty of time for Scheck to lobby legislators. Went it was voted on, John Diaz of the Denver Post wrote:

"At the urging of Sen. Claire Traylor, the Senate stripped the reference to Waldheim out of HJR l03l. Taylor argued that it was 'totally out of our realm' to suggest a foreign leader resign. 'State lawmakers lack the resources to determine Waldheim's role, if any, in the Holocaust' she said. `It would be an embarrassment to the state.' But Sen. Brian McCauley urged that legislators should not back away from taking stands on human rights."

The amendment did pass on an unrecorded vote, and then the resolution on a 33 to 0 vote. On May 5, the House considered the question of the Senate amendment. Rep. Bath made a motion to concur and asked for a "no" vote. Speaker Bledsoe, again putting the prestige of his office into the debate, descended to the House floor and argued vigorously for the Senate position.

News reporter Morson wrote: "Bledsoe said discussion of the Holocaust makes people of German extraction uncomfortable...Bledsoe characterized the resolution as gratuitous advice to the Austrians. `Whether Waldheim did any of those things, I don't know, and neither do you.' But Rep. Gloria Tanner responded `We're irresponsible if we don't say we don't want this to happen again. If we don't send this message out, we're all guilty."

The motion to concur received a majority, but died 32 to 3l, since it takes 33 votes to pass. Bath then made a motion to adhere, which passed 35 to 27. In the Senate, Sen. Wells made a motion to adhere to the Senate position and it passed l9 to l2, thus killing the resolution.

All of which brings us to March of l994, when the Clinton Administration made public the Justice Dept. report that had been ordered withheld by both Reagan and Bush since April 27,l987.

The report states that in memoranda contesting the attempt to bar him from the U.S. (the book given Colorado legislators by the counsel general in l988) Waldheim "offered explanation of historical events which are so completely inconsistent with documented facts as to smack of rank distortion."

The New York Times, quoting from the report says that during his service as an intelligence officer in Yugoslavia:

"Waldheim assisted or participated in the transfer of civilian prisoners to the SS for exploitation as slave labor; the mass deportation of civilians to concentration and death camps; the deportation of Jews from Greek islands and 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."

Commenting on Hitler's Commando Order that captured Allied commandos were to be "slaughtered to the last man" the report states "It appears than on at least two occasions, Lieut. Waldheim personally participated in the disposition of captured Allied commandos."

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