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Norbert Hofer of Austria - Europe's first fascist leader since Franco?

Tom Winnifrith
Sunday 4 December 2016

Many on the left are, these days, prone to label any populist right wing leader as a fascist. Or when that loses its meaning since it now covers so many folks they use the term Nazi instead. There is no evidence that Donald Trump or Nigel Farage or the editor of the Daily Mail want to gas the Jews or invade Albania and Ethiopia but hell why not lump them with those right wingers of old. And thus we are today being warned that Austria might elect Europe's first fascist leader since Franco in the shape of Norbert Hofer. As it happens it has not but then it never was!

I will not argue that Hofer is a nice guy or that many of his views are not deeply unpleasant. He is certainly very right wing indeed. But is he really a fascist? In ideological terms do his views really chime in with the Big State ideas of the original fascists of Mussolini's Italy. Almost certainly they do not. Populist right winger yes, fascist, the case is not entirely proven.

But there is a more clear cut reason why Norbert will not be the first fascist, or indeed Nazi, leader in Europe since Franco. And that is that between 1986 and 1992 the President of Austria really was a Nazi, that is to say Kurt Waldheim.

Kurt lied about his war record in his autobiography but we know enough of what he got up to here in the Balkans to know that it was not entirely without controversy. In early 1941, Waldheim was drafted into the Wehrmacht and posted to the Eastern Front where he served as a squad leader. By the end of the war in 1945 he was an Oberleutnant and it his activities in Greece and Jugolavia between 1942 and 1945 that are most interesting.

Over to Wikipedia:

By 1943, Waldheim was serving in the capacity of an aide-de-camp in Army Group E which was headed by General Alexander Löhr. In 1986, Waldheim said that he had served only as an interpreter and a clerk and had no knowledge either of reprisals against local Serb civilians or of massacres in neighboring provinces of Yugoslavia. He said that he had known about some of the things that had happened, and had been horrified, but could not see what else he could have done.

Much historical interest has centered on Waldheim's role in Operation Kozara in 1942. According to one post-war investigator, prisoners were routinely shot within only a few hundred meters (yards) of Waldheim's office, and just 22 miles away at the Jasenovac concentration camp. Waldheim later stated that "he did not know about the murder of civilians there".

Waldheim denied that he knew war crimes were taking place in Bosnia at the height of the battles between the Nazis and Tito's partisans in 1943. According to Eli Rosenbaum, in 1944, Waldheim reviewed and approved a packet of anti-Semitic propaganda leaflets to be dropped behind Soviet lines, one of which ended: "Enough of the Jewish war, kill the Jews, come over."


For family reasons I wonder what Waldheim knew about the Jews of Corfu all 1795 of whom were rounded up in October 1944 and sent to Auschwitz via Patras in Souther Greece and Athens. Only 121 survived. The cattle cars that took those poor people to their death travelled through the region where Army Group E of the Wehrmacht was in control and Waldheim was a senior staffer there. It is inconceivable that Waldheim did not know what was going on and also of the cleansing of the Jews of Southern Yugoslavia and what is now Bosnia.

Europe's first fascist or Nazi leader since Franco is indeed an Austrian but the name in the frame is Waldheim not Hofer. Waldheim was a real Nazi, putting folks like Trump or Hofer in the same category trivialises the real evil of what went on in the 1940s.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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