Robert Herzstein, Historian Who Linked a U.N. Leader to Nazi War Crimes, Dies at 75

Historians in the News
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Robert Herzstein, a historian whose prodigious archival research on behalf of the World Jewish Congress helped uncover Kurt Waldheim’s veiled ties to Nazi war crimes, died on Jan. 24 at a hospice near his home in Columbia, S.C. He was 75.

The cause was multiple myeloma, his partner, Faye Flowers, said.

In 1979, when Mr. Waldheim, then the secretary general of the United Nations, received an honorary doctorate at the University of South Carolina, he was warmly greeted by Professor Herzstein, who taught history there. Seven years later, Professor Herzstein was instrumental in discovering that Mr. Waldheim was on a list of suspects wanted by the United Nations’ own war crimes commission.

Kurt Waldheim did not, in fact, order, incite or personally commit what is commonly called a war crime,” Professor Herzstein concluded in his book about the investigation. “But this nonguilt must not be confused with innocence. The fact that Waldheim played a significant role in military units that unquestionably committed war crimes makes him at the very least morally complicit in those crimes.”

Robert Edwin Herzstein was born on Sept. 26, 1940, in Manhattan. His father, Harold, a lawyer, was Mayor William O’Dwyer’s legislative representative in Albany. His mother, Jean, was a homemaker.

He attended the McBurney School and earned bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from New York University. He taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Carnegie Institute of Technology before joining the University of South Carolina faculty in 1972. He retired as distinguished professor emeritus of history in 2008....

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