New documentary at Berlinale Forum confronts denial of Austria’s role in Second World War, suggests parallels in political climate today


When filmmaker Ruth Beckermann found her old footage of the 1986 Austrian presidential campaign of Kurt Waldheim, she saw clear parallels in politics today: “We’re again facing people…who are not very keen to tell the truth.” Many Austrians who were soldiers for the Third Reich in World War II, among them Waldheim, later downplayed their involvement, something many including Beckermann have called out as a lie.

Waldheim was the well-respected U.N. Secretary General from 1972 to 1982 before returning to Austria and launching his bid for president. During his campaign, evidence came to light showing that he was not inactive after just three months of service, but was in fact stationed in the Balkans for three years in areas where some of the most large-scale deportations of Jews occurred. Waldheim nevertheless continued to deny his wartime activities.

Her new documentary on the campaign, “The Waldheim Waltz,” examines this denial, and is being screened as part of the International Forum of New Cinema at the Berlinale this year. Beckermann thinks the documentary’s subject resonates strongly today given Austria’s recently elected far right government. She sees the film as a reaction to this climate of lies and fear-mongering, and hopes to show that those who benefit from bending the truth in the present moment can nonetheless face retribution at a later date.

Stills from The Waldheim Waltz © Ruth Beckermann Filmproduktion.