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Simon Wiesenthal 1908-2005

Simon Wiesenthal, the man whose name has become synonymous with bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, has passed away at the age of 96.

 

Baruch Dayan Emet (‘Blessed is the one true Judge’)

 

Biography

 

Simon Wiesenthal was an architectural engineer by training. He received his degree from the Technical University of Prague in 1932 after being declined admission to the Polytechnic University of Lwow as a result of quota restrictions on Jewish students. In 1936, he married Cyla Mueller. Wiesenthal was living in Lwow, Poland, at the outbreak of World War II. As a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Lwow was occupied by the Soviet Union. Wiesenthal’s stepfather and stepbrother were killed at the hands of the NKVD, the Soviet Secret Police, and Wiesenthal himself was forced to close his firm and work in a factory. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, Wiesenthal and his family became caught up in the Nazi Final Solution.

 

Wiesenthal’s wife was able to hide her Jewish identity from the Nazis because of her blonde hair and the false papers provided to her by the Polish Underground in exchange for diagrams of railroad junctions drawn by Wiesenthal. However, Simon was not so fortunate. He was interned in several concentration camps, where he barely escaped execution on a number of occasions.


Wiesenthal starts his career as a Nazi hunter

Wiesenthal was liberated by American forces in 1945. When the Americans found him he weighed less than 100 pounds (45 kg) and was helpless. As soon as his health improved, Wiesenthal went to work for the U.S. Army gathering documentation for the Nazi war crimes trials. In 1947 he and thirty other volunteers founded the Jewish Documentation Center in Linz, Austria in order to gather information for future trials. However, as the United States and the Soviet Union lost interest in further war crimes trials, the group drifted apart. Wiesenthal himself continued to gather information in his spare time while working full time to help those affected by World War II. During this time, Wiesenthal was instrumental in the capture and conviction of the main engineer of the Endlosung, Adolf Eichmann. After Eichmann was executed in Israel in 1962, Wiesenthal reopened the Jewish Documentation Center, which went to work on other cases. Among his most high-profile successes was Karl Silberbauer, the Gestapo officer responsible for the arrest of Anne Frank. Silberbauer’s confession helped discredit claims that The Diary of Anne Frank was a forgery. During this period Wiesenthal also located nine of the sixteen Nazis put on trial in West Germany for the murder of the Jewish population of Lwow, Wiesenthal’s home town, Franz Stangl, the commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor concentration camps, and Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan, a housewife living on Long Island, New York who had supervised the murder of hundreds of children during the war.


The Wiesenthal Center

In 1977, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Holocaust memorial agency was named in his honor. The Simon Wiesenthal Center promotes awareness of antisemitism, monitors neo-Nazi groups, operates Museums of Tolerance in Los Angeles and Jerusalem and helps bring surviving Nazi war criminals to justice.

 

Austrian politics and later life

In the 1970s he got caught up in Austrian politics when he pointed out that several ministers in Bruno Kreisky’s newly formed Socialist government had been Nazis while Austria was part of the Third Reich. Kreisky, himself Jewish, bizarrely attacked Wiesenthal as a Nestbeschmutzer (someone who dirties their own nest).

 

Over the years Wiesenthal received many death threats and, in 1982, a bomb placed by German and Austrian neo-Nazis exploded outside his house in Vienna, Austria.

 

In April 2003, Wiesenthal announced his retirement, saying that he had found the mass murderers he had been looking for: “I have survived them all. If there were any left, they’d be too old and weak to stand trial today. My work is done.” According to Wiesenthal, the last major Austrian war criminal still alive is Alois Brunner, Eichmann’s right-hand man, who is believed to be hiding in Syria under the protection of the Assad regime.

Reactions

“I think he’ll be remembered as the conscience of the Holocaust. In a way he became the permanent representative of the victims of the Holocaust, determined to bring the perpetrators of the greatest crime to justice”

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

“He acted on behalf of 6 million people who could no longer defend themselves..The state of Israel, the Jewish people and all those who oppose racism recognized Simon Wiesenthal’s unique contribution to making our planet a better place.”

Mark Regev, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman

“He acted with determination and stubbornness…until his last days”

Avner Shalev, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem

 

“One of the giants of the Jewish world has died in ripe old age. Wiesenthal was a man who got out of the horrors of the concentration camps to look for justice”

Rabbi Michael Melchior, Deputy Minister of Social and Diaspora Affairs

“Simon Wiesenthal was the biggest fighter of our generation. He represented the morality of humanity; he represented the free world, the democratic world. He devoted his life to fighting racism, anti-Semitism, Nazism and he really contributed to making a better world for the next generation..The Holocaust was the industry of bloodshed. I believe that, if we do not teach the lesson of the Holocaust, it could happen to the next generation. We have to do as much as possible to prevent it happening again.”

– Israeli President Moshe Katsav

“Wiesenthal was one of the greats who contributed to clearing up the crimes of the Nazis. He also made it easier for Germany to look to the future.”

– German President Horst Koehler

 

Wiesenthal Quotes

“In my mind I had built up the image of a demonic superman. Instead I saw a frail, nondescript, shabby fellow in a glass cell between two Israeli policemen; they looked more colorful and interesting than he did..There was nothing demonic about him; he looked like a bookkeeper who was afraid to ask for a raise.”

– Wiesenthal writing about seeing Eichmann for the first time, in “The Murderers Among Us.”

“When history looks back, I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.”

“If we pardon this genocide, it will be repeated, and not only on Jews. If we don’t learn this lesson, then millions died for nothing.”

“I believe that the most important thing I was able to contribute to the search for Eichmann was destroying the legend of his alleged death.”

“[Eichmann’s testimony] destroyed the fairy tale that Auschwitz was just a lie..Since then, the world has been familiar with the concept of the ‘murderer at his desk.’ We know that fanatical, near-pathological sadism is not necessary for millions of people to be murdered; that all that is needed is dutiful obedience to some leader.”

Obituaries

 

 

 

 

 

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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