Waldheims Walzer (The Waldheim Waltz)
Ruth Beckermann, Austria
Austrian Kurt Waldheim played the part well. He was a polished diplomat, almost Hollywood cast, a noble European statesman rising from the ashes of the Second World War. After losing the Austrian presidential election in 1971, Waldheim aspired for more and was elected the fourth Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1972 to 1981. Following this respected international position he decided to run for the presidency in Austria again in 1986…..when all hell broke loose. Months before the election, the World Jewish Congress in New York gave a press conference and flashed a now infamous photo taken of Waldheim in 1943 in a Nazi uniform and presented documentation exposing his whitewashed past.
Ruth Beckermann’s documentary is a collection of sometimes amateurish ‘70s and ‘80s video clips integrated with national and international television broadcasts much to the delight of many “retro” audience members. However my fellow filmgoer Karen and I weren’t that enthralled and both drifted off to sleep during the film; documentaries often appeal to a specialized, in this case, highly politicized audience.
Beckermann traces his downfall from grace and his subsequent campaign to ascend to the Austrian presidency. Waldheim’s autobiography seems to have omitted information about some critical war years. He maintained he had been wounded in 1941, had a medical discharge, and had returned to Austria to marry and attend university till the end of the war. No mention was made of the years he spent in Greece and Yugoslavia, from 1942 to 1945 as an Oberleutnant during the deportations of Jews and massacres of local civilians. In a television interview he later admits to his service on the Eastern Front, but dismisses all knowledge of any atrocities.
Beckermann’s narrates the documentary and explains that her country Austria had taken on the role of the first victim of National Socialism after the War, and as a nation has never confronted its own guilt. Under this cover Waldheim could easily play the trusted, senior statesman washing his hands (menacingly large and hypnotic ones as she points out) of all sins. She quotes Abraham Lincoln’s words: “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” In the present political climate this film is a tale of caution.
Appearing on stage after its premier at the Berlinale Beckermann was warmly received by the audience. Later in the week she was presented the very first Glashütte Original Dokumentarfilmpreis; Waldheims Walzer was chosen the best of eighteen other documentaries shown at the Berlinale. Who could have predicted that? Maybe we missed something spectacular while dozing off to sleep.