Simon Wiesenthal Center News

 "The Conscience of the Holocaust, Dies in Vienna" at 96

Simon Wiesenthal, the famous Nazi Hunter has died in Vienna at the age of 96, the Simon Wiesenthal Center announced today (September 20th).

"Simon Wiesenthal was the conscience of the Holocaust," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the International Human Rights NGO named in Mr. Wiesenthal’s honor, adding, "When the Holocaust ended in 1945 and the whole world went home to forget, he alone remained behind to remember. He did not forget. He became the permanent representative of the victims, determined to bring the perpetrators of the history’s greatest crime to justice. There was no press conference and no president or Prime Minister or world leader announced his appointment. He just took the job. It was a job no one else wanted.

The task was overwhelming. The cause had few friends. The Allies were already focused on the Cold War, the survivors were rebuilding their shattered lives and Simon Wiesenthal was all alone, combining the role of both prosecutor and detective at the same time."

Overcoming the world’s indifference and apathy, Simon Wiesenthal helped bring over 1,100 Nazi War Criminals before the Bar of Justice.

Sydney Morning Herald

Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal dies

September 20, 2005

Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who helped track down about 1,000 Nazi war criminals after World War II, died in his sleep at home. He was 96.

"When history looks back I want people to know the Nazis weren't able to kill millions of people and get away with it," he once said.

His work is credited with helping Israeli forces catch Adolf Eichmann, the one-time SS leader who organised the Nazi extermination of the Jews.

Wiesenthal died in his bed in Vienna, Austria, according to Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles.

"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," Hier said.

Wiesenthal, who had been an architect before World War II, changed his life's mission after the war to tracking down Nazi war criminals for more than 50 years.

He was also a voice for the six million Jews who died under Adolf Hitler's regime.

He himself lost 89 relatives in the Holocaust.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, said Wiesenthal "brought justice to those who had escaped justice".

"He acted on behalf of 6 million people who could no longer defend themselves," Regev said.

"The state of Israel, the Jewish people and all those who oppose racism recognised Simon Wiesenthal's unique contribution to making our planet a better place."

Wiesenthal's quest began after the Americans liberated the Mauthausen death camp in Austria where Wiesenthal was a prisoner in May 1945.

He weighed just 45kg when he was freed.

He soon realised "there is no freedom without justice", and decided to dedicate "a few years" to seeking justice. "It became decades," he added.

Even after reaching the age of 90, Wiesenthal continued to remind and to warn.

While appalled at atrocities committed by Serbs against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo in the 1990s, he said no one should confuse the tragedy there with the Holocaust.

"We are living in a time of the trivialisation of the word 'Holocaust'," he said in 1999. "What happened to the Jews cannot be compared with all the other crimes."

Wiesenthal was born on December 31, 1908, to Jewish merchants at Buczacs, a small town near the present-day Ukrainian city of Lviv in what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire.

He studied in Prague and Warsaw and in 1932 received a degree in civil engineering.

He was apprenticed to a building engineer in Russia before returning to Lviv to open an architectural office before World War II.

After the war ended, working first with the Americans and later from a cramped Vienna apartment packed floor to ceiling with documents, Wiesenthal tirelessly pursued fugitive Nazis.

Thanks partly to Weisenthal's work, Eichmann was found in Argentina.

The former SS commander was abducted by Israeli agents in 1960, tried and hanged for crimes committed against the Jews.

Wiesenthal often was accused of exaggerating his role in Eichmann's capture. He did not claim sole responsibility, but said he knew by 1954 where Eichmann was.

Eichmann's capture "was a teamwork of many who did not know each other", Wiesenthal said in 1972. "I do not know if and to what extent reports I sent to Israel were used."

Wiesenthal did not bring to justice one prime target - Josef Mengele, the infamous "Angel of Death" of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Mengele died in South America after eluding capture for decades.

Wiesenthal's long quest for justice also stirred controversy.

In Austria, which took decades to acknowledge its own role in Nazi crimes, Wiesenthal was ignored and often insulted before finally being honoured for his work when he was in his 80s.

Ironically, it was the furore over Kurt Waldheim, who became president in 1986 despite lying about his past as an officer in Hitler's army, that gave Wiesenthal stature in Austria.

Wiesenthal's failure to condemn Waldheim as a war criminal drew international ire and conflict with American Jewish groups.

But it made Austrians realise that the Nazi hunter did not condemn everybody who took part in the Nazi war effort.

Wiesenthal's wife, Cyla, whom he married in 1936, died in November 2003.

© 2005 AAP

Simon Wiesenthal, holocaust survivor turned Nazi hunter, dies

Agence France-Presse - September 20, 2005

VIENNA, Sept 20 (AFP) - Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal, an untiring campaigner who helped track down hundreds of Nazi war criminals, died Tuesday in Vienna aged 96, the US-based center which bears his name said.

Wiesenthal, who died after a long illness, helped bring more than 1,100 Nazi criminals to justice, according to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which did not give the cause of his death.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Los Angeles-based center, described Wiesenthal as "the conscience of the Holocaust".

"When the Holocaust ended in 1945 and the whole world went home to forget, he alone remained behind to remember," Hier said in a statement.

"He did not forget. He became the permanent representative of the victims, determined to bring the perpetrators of the historys greatest crime to justice. "

Born in 1908 in the town of Buchach in what is now Ukraine, Wiesenthal practised architecture prior to World War II, when he was twice imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps, in 1941-43 and 1944-45.

Wiesenthal was freed by American soldiers from the camp at Mauthausen in central Austria in May 1945, but dozens of his family members, among them his mother, stepfather and stepbrother died in the Nazi genocide.

He founded the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna two years after the end of the war and in 1977 helped set up the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, to fight bigotry and anti-Semitism worldwide.

Wiesenthal played an important part in helping the Israeli secret service track down Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Nazis' "Final Solution" -- the extermination of Europe's Jewish population.

Eichmann was seized by Israeli agents in Argentina and taken to Israel to be tried. He was executed there in 1961.

Sydney Morning Herald

The scourge of Hitler's henchmen

 September 22 2005

Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi-hunter, 1908-2005


Simon Wiesenthal, who has died aged 96, was head of the Jewish Documentation Centre, which he established after World War II to search for Nazi war criminals and to collect evidence against them.

Wiesenthal's purpose was to ensure, as he put it, that "no Nazi murderer, however old he may be, will be allowed to die in peace". Yet he did not feel that the importance of his work rested only on bringing criminals to justice. "It is important for criminals to know that they are not forgotten," he said. "Even 40 years after they committed their crimes, and even though they are thousands of miles from the scene of their crimes, they should not feel safe."

Wiesenthal was instrumental in the identification and arrest of some 3000 war criminals, most famously Adolf Eichmann, the SS "desk murderer" who turned the mass killing of Jews in the Third Reich into an organised industry. The trial and imprisonment of the former Treblinka death camp commandant Franz Strangl and of the bestial Majdanek camp guard Hermine Braunsteiner were among other successes.

Wiesenthal was not unusually vindictive by nature, but on his release from Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945 he felt that those responsible for the death camps must, if possible, be brought to account. He planned to spend two or three years helping to bring them to justice, but the undertaking, more formidable than he expected, became his life's work.

He chose Austraia for his headquarters, quite deliberately. "If you want to study malaria," he explained to a friend, "you go and live among tsetse [a fly found in Africa]." He considered that the Austrians were worse Nazis than the Germans, and half of the names on the gigantic list he eventually assembled - 22,000 men and women suspected of involvement in the Holocaust - were Austrian.

Having put his phenomenal memory at the service of America's War Crimes Unit - he provided a detailed list of 91 savage SS officers and camp guards he had encountered in the several camps to which he had been consigned during the war - he began to build up his own archive at Linz in 1947.

While some of the results of his work were dramatic, the daily routine was not. Wiesenthal's style was deliberate, cumbersome, painstaking, a matter of accumulating, sifting and classifying and, above all, checking documents from many sources in many languages. He was never prepared to accept the flood of documents emanating from Soviet sources at their face value.

By 1954, depressed by others' seeming indifference to his quest and short of funds, Wiesenthal closed the office, sending a mountain of case files to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Authority's archive in Israel. But after the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, captured of Eichmann in Argentina, and his subsequent trial in Israel in 1960, Wiesenthal reopened his office in Vienna.

He did not relish the role of grim avenger - though with his large frame, slight stoop and sometimes aggressive manner, he looked the part - and he often reiterated his stand that retribution was not an end in itself. "We must not forget," he said, "that what happened to the Jews could happen to any minority."

Simon Wiesenthal was born at Buczacz, Galicia, an autonomous region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where Polish was the official language. Although born before midnight on December 31, he was registered as the first-born Jewish boy of Buczacz in 1909 - an arrangement which his maternal grandparents believed would bring good fortune.

Of Buczacz's population of 10,000, 60 per cent were Jews, and Simon was brought up in a traditional Jewish milieu. His father was a wholesale merchant; his mother was well read in the classics of German literature. Yiddish was spoken at home, Polish in public places, and from his mother he learned German. Later he would add Russian, Czech and English.

From 1915 to 1917, the Wiesenthals were obliged to seek refuge in Vienna, when Buczacz was overrun by Jew-baiting Cossacks from Russia. Simon and his younger brother, Hillel, attended the Volksschule in Bauerlegasse, where almost all the pupils were Jews.

When the family returned to Buczacz in 1917, Simon so missed his friends - and his brother, who had been left with their grandmother - that his mother sent him back to Vienna.

Six months later, with the collapse of the Habsburg Empire, all the members of his family had returned to Buczacz, at that point annexed to Poland. But while his education continued in Polish, there were continual changes of authority: Russian Bolsheviks drove out the Poles; the Poles enlisted the aid of the brutal Ukrainian Petlyura cavalry. "We would get up without knowing what regime was in power," Wiesenthal remembered.

As Wiesenthal was recieving his secondary education in the '20s, one of his classmates was Cyla Muller. The two became close and eventually, in 1936, were married at Lvov, where, after studying in Prague, he was trying to establish himself as an architect. Hampered by increasing discrimination, it was only in 1939 he was allowed to qualify as an "architectural engineer" after the construction of a tuberculosis sanitorium under his direction.

When the non-aggression pact between Hitler and Stalin came into effect that year, Poland was partitioned; Galicia, with Lvov as its capital, was transferred to Soviet sovereignty. In September, the Red Army and the NKVD, the Soviet secret police, arrived and set about arresting "bourgeois" Jews. By bribing an NKVD official Wiesenthal managed to remain at liberty with his wife and his mother. Banned from his profession, he secured a factory job filling quilts with feathers.

In June 1941 the Germans invaded the Soviet part of Poland, and marched into Lvov. The Ukrainians, who had fled to Germany in 1939, returned to indulge in a three-day pogrom in which more than 6000 Jews were killed. SS troops under Reinhard Heydrich, who produced the blueprint to establish the extermination camps, followed in the Ukrainians' wake, with orders to execute the "Bolshevik intelligentsia", especially the Jews.

All Jews were forced to move into the ghetto. The able-bodied, including Wiesenthal and his wife, were put to forced labour, and in the summer of 1942 those who were too old or sick to work were rounded up. Returning from work one evening, Wiesenthal found his frail mother gone - herded onto a train bound for Belzec extermination camp. He never discovered her fate, or her grave.

In October 1942 Wiesenthal and his wife were taken to the camp at Janowska, near Lvov, but after a few weeks were transferred to a small labour camp nearby. In early 1943, Cyla, who had blonde hair and grey-blue eyes, was smuggled out with forged identity papers provided by a German works supervisor, Adolf Kohlrautz, and with the help of the Polish partisans.

Wiesenthal escaped a year later, and for a time was also helped to stay in hiding by the Polish Underground. He was captured in June 1944, having been discovered during a search under the floorboards of a house in Lvov. He was returned to Janowska, where he tried to commit suicide by cutting his wrists.

After five weeks in hospital and two more suicide attempts, he was consigned to Mauthausen, near Linz, in February 1945. It was a smaller camp - a mere 350,000 victims passed through it - but one of the worst. When Wiesenthal arrived, its gas chamber was working to full capacity; smoke belched from the crematorium chimney round the clock.

Too ill to work, Wiesenthal was placed in the death block, where, during March, 930 of the 1500 inmates died. He was provided with extra food when a Kapo guard discovered that he could draw and gave him drawing materials to produce presents for the other guards. Secretly, Wiesenthal also drew a series of gruesome concentration camp cartoons which, after the camp's liberation by the Americans in May 1945, were published as KZ Mauthausen.

It was perhaps his experience at Mauthausen which shaped his attitudes and determined his postwar career. The very fact of being among the Jews who survived left Wiesenthal with a sense of obligation to those who perished. He volunteered his services to the US War Crimes Unit, supplying it with his list of 91 names. He was also scrupulous in recording the names of two Germans who had behaved decently, one of them being Kohlrautz.

A few days later Wiesenthal joined the unit - and soon afterwards, helped by American friends, traced and was reunited with Cyla. Within 18 months he had set up his documentation centre, and had begun to compile evidence from concentration camp survivors in the American zone before they dispersed around the world.

Among the names on the "most wanted list" drawn up by the Jewish Agency for Palestine was that of Eichmann. Rumours that he was in Austria led Wiesenthal to the village of Altaussee, where Eichmann's wife, Vera, and her three children were living. But she claimed that Eichmann had died fighting in Prague in 1945, and then in 1947 she sought to have him declared dead.

Wiesenthal, knowing that Eichmann had been seen alive at Altaussee in June 1945, did not accept this, and succeeded in blocking the application. He feared that a death declaration would end the search, and it was almost certainly due to his persistence that Israel, preoccupied with building a new state from 1947, resumed the hunt in 1957.

In 1953 Wiesenthal discovered that Eichmann had fled to Argentina - as a consequence of his sole relaxation, stamp collecting. A fellow philatelist showed him a letter from a former Wehrmacht friend in Buenos Aires who had seen that "dreadful swine Eichmann who commanded the Jews. He lives near Buenos Aires and works for a water company."

Wiesenthal informed the Israeli consul-general in Vienna. Five years later, Mossad was informed by the Frankfurt prosecutor Fritz Bauer that Eichmann was indeed in Argentina, and in 1960 its agents spirited him to Israel, where he was tried and hanged.

The Eichmann case aside, Wiesenthal's proudest achievement - for he was wholly responsible - was the bringing to trial of Franz Strangl, the commandant of Treblinka extermination camp, commended by the Nazi leadership as "the best camp commander in Poland". During Strangl's time in charge at Treblinka, 800,000 inmates were gassed.

Strangl had been involved with "euthanasia program" experiments on the mentally retarded and terminally ill at Schloss Hartheim, near Mauthausen, had worked at Chelmno and Belzec (where some of the first gas chambers were installed), and, before taking charge at Treblinka, had been commandant of Sobibor extermination camp.

Wiesenthal discovered Strangl was in Brazil and secured his deportation to Germany, where he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1967. "If I have done nothing else in my life but bring this wicked man to trial," said Wiesenthal, "I will not have lived in vain."

Wiesenthal was interested in justice, not indiscriminate revenge; he consistently argued that punishment has to be individual, not collective, and that to incriminate a man on incomplete evidence is a crime in itself.

Wiesenthal received no public funding, and travelled the world to raise funds for his documentation centre.

Perhaps Wiesenthal's greatest disappointment was the escape from justice of Dr Josef Mengele, the doctor at Auschwitz notorious for performing inhuman experiments; he drowned swimming in Paraguay.

But nothing could divert Wiesenthal from his aim, which assumed the intensity of a sacred duty. He would go on, he said, as long as God gave him strength and friends gave him money, and he did.

"My whole life's work," he explained during a visit to Auschwitz in 1994, "is to ensure that the murderers of tomorrow - who may not even be born yet - must know that they will have no peace." He retired in October 2001.

His books included I Hunted Eichmann (1961); The Murderers Amongst Us (1967) and Justice Not Vengeance (1989). He was depicted in the films The Odessa File and The Boys from Brazil. Wiesenthal received numerous awards and decorations and was appointed an honorary Knight of the British Empire last year.

Cyla Wiesenthal died in 2003. Simon Wiesenthal is survived by their daughter.

Telegraph, London



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