Late Austrian pol praised Nazis, derided Jews

vienna, austria | The controversial late Austrian politician Joerg Haider was a figure whose strident rhetoric contemptuous of Jews once led to months of international isolation for the Alpine republic.

Haider — who died Oct. 11 in a car accident at age 58 — was notorious for remarks sympathetic to the Nazis and critical of Jews, a visit with Saddam Hussein on the eve of the Iraq war and a friendship with Moammar Gadhafi when Libya was still an international pariah.

At the time of his death, Haider was governor of the southern province of Carinthia and leader of the Alliance for the Future of Austria, a party he formed after breaking away from the far-right Freedom Party in 2005. He never held a post in the national government.

Among Haider’s remarks that drew international criticism were his description of a member of Hitler’s Waffen SS convicted of eradicating the population of an Italy village as someone “who [only] did his duty.” He lauded Nazis as creating “a good policy of employment.” In a mocking reference to the first name of Viennese Jewish leader Ariel Muzicant, which is also the name of a popular detergent, Haider said: “I don’t understand how someone called Ariel can have so much dirt on his hands.”

In 2002, the U.S. State Department, which normally takes scant public notice of tiny Austria, linked Haider to electioneering comments that “could be interpreted as xenophobic or anti-Semitic.”

Such sentiments, and his Freedom Party’s anti-foreigner stance, played well among Austrians critical of America, fearful of the growing influx of Islam and other outside cultures and unrepentant about their country’s role in Nazi atrocities.

When Haider took over the party in 1986, it was polling well below 10 percent nationally. By 2000, it was the No. 2 force in the country, capturing 27 percent of the vote. His party subsequently formed Austria’s government in coalition with the centrist People’s Party, prompting Israel to recall its ambassador in protest.

Haider was born Jan. 26, 1950 in the Upper Austrian town of Bad Goisern to parents who were enthusiastic Nazi party members. His father, a shoemaker, was forced after the war to unearth mass graves dug by the SS. His mother, a teacher, was prohibited from working in her profession for several years.