The Waltz of Waldheim poses the question whether a fascist threat suppressed and unexamined on a national scale has ever really been defeated.
In The Waltz of Waldheim, which had its world premiere at the Berlinale, Austrian-Jewish documentarian Ruth Beckermann probes her country’s unhealthy relationship with its past as manifested in the scandal that arose around former UN Secretary-General and presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim in 1985. Though he had been a prominent politician and diplomat for decades, his wartime service in a Wehrmacht unit from 1942 to 1945, responsible for the killings of partisans in Yugoslavia and deportation of Jews from Greece, only then came to light. Accusations of an intentional cover-up circulated, while protesters insisted they did not want to be lead by a “memory lapse” – referring to the collective war memories of the political leadership. Steadfastly denying any wrongdoing, Waldheim won the presidency anyway, aided by a nationalist backlash. More than thirty years on from the Waldheim Affair, as the far right surges in popularity in Austria again, The Waltz of Waldheim asks if a fascist threat suppressed but unexamined on a national scale has ever really been defeated.
That the Axis Powers lost World War II is clear. More contentious has been determining the exact degree of moral complicity in the Nazi regime’s atrocities of each of the millions of citizens who had registered as party members. Austria – greeting their annexation just before the war to form a larger German Reich with what some have deemed initial enthusiasm – has shown a markedly different attitude than Germany in reconciling this shameful period. Preferring instead to proclaim innocence as Hitler’s first victims rather than accepting collective guilt.
«Whether silent presence without resistance amounts to complicity is of course key to any judgement of Waldheim.»
Beckermann, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, has often explored stories of loss, fragmented identity and the reconstruction of memory in work grappling with the dark legacy of wartime Europe. Her prior feature The Dreamed Ones (2016) summoned up the powerful emotions of faltering love between key German-language poets and lovers Ingeborg Bachmann (whose father was …
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