Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal dies at 96


Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal dies at 96

By Boris Groendahl

VIENNA (Reuters) - Simon Wiesenthal, who waged an untiring campaign to track down Nazi war criminals and keep alive the memory of six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, died on Tuesday aged 96.

Wiesenthal, a Jew and former concentration camp inmate, was best known for helping with the discovery in Argentina of Adolf Eichmann, the man Adolf Hitler entrusted with carrying out the Nazi genocide program against the Jews.

The man who helped trace some 1,100 Nazis from his small, file-crammed Vienna office, died early on Tuesday in his apartment, the Jewish Community of Vienna said. Guests from many countries are expected to attend a memorial on Wednesday.

Wiesenthal will be buried in Israel.

"Simon Wiesenthal acted to bring justice to those who had escaped justice," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said. "In doing so, he was the voice of 6 million."

Altogether the Nazis are estimated to have murdered at least 11 million civilians, including 6 million Jews, during World War Two. The Israeli institute named after Wiesenthal is trying to track down some 1,200 Nazis it suspects to be still alive and at large in 16 countries including Austria, Spain and Croatia.

"Wiesenthal's personal mission has ended, and there are others who are carrying on with the work," said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, on radio.

Wiesenthal, born in 1908 in what is now Ukraine, traveled the world into his old age, lecturing on the Holocaust, and until last year came into his office, the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, collecting data on former Nazis.

He maintained that his motivation was not anger but justice. "I am someone who seeks justice, not revenge," Wiesenthal said. "My work is a warning to the murderers of tomorrow, that they will never rest."

Apart from Eichmann, he helped find the SS officer who in Amsterdam arrested Anne Frank, the teenage author of the Anne Frank Diaries, and the head of the Treblinka extermination camp. His quest for Nazi doctor Josef Mengele ended when Mengele was found dead in Brazil in 1985.


The Germans detained Wiesenthal in Lvov in Galicia in 1941 and he passed through 12 concentration camps before U.S. soldiers freed him in the Mauthausen camp near Linz in Austria.

He weighed 50 kg (110 lb). Eighty-nine members of his family perished in the Holocaust but his blonde wife escaped from a camp pretending she was Polish, not Jewish. Wiesenthal said his own survival was a privilege which committed him to action.

"What especially touched me was the fact that despite his personal experience, he never became bitter, and carried on in an admirable and just manner," former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said in a statement.

U.S. President George W. Bush called Wiesenthal "a tireless and passionate advocate who devoted his life to tracking down Nazi killers and promoting freedom.

"Simon Wiesenthal fought for justice, and history will always remember him," he said in a statement.

Wiesenthal said he began memorizing perpetrators' names during his detention. A job at the War Crimes Office of the U.S. army, where he helped prepare evidence against war criminals in 1945 was the beginning of a mission that spanned six decades.

Wiesenthal founded the Jewish Documentation Center in 1947, which opened its office in Vienna in 1961. However, Austria, which was annexed by Nazi Germany in 1938 and likes to portray itself as a country that was Germany's victim, was ambivalent for a long time about its famous citizen.

Although Wiesenthal rejected the notion of the collective guilt of a people, he pointed out that a disproportionate number of Nazi war criminals were Austrians. He also attacked the country in the 1980s for tolerating an SS officer as a minister.

"Eichmann and 70 percent of his troupe as well as two-thirds of the commandants of the concentration camps were Austrians," Wiesenthal said. "And after all, Hitler was no Eskimo either."

Hitler was born in Braunau, Austria, in 1889.

A figure hated by neo-Nazis, Wiesenthal received threatening letters and phone calls throughout his life. After a bomb was placed outside his home in 1982, a policeman always stood guard there and before his office.

However, when Austrian presidential candidate Kurt Waldheim, a former German army officer, came under fire from the Jewish World Congress in 1986, Wiesenthal condemned the New York-based Congress for rousing anti-Semitism with its campaign.

While judging Waldheim a liar for attempting to gloss over his service in the Balkans during World War Two, Wiesenthal refused to accuse him of war crimes.

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Zawadil and Franziska Schenker in Vienna, Mark Heinrich and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Phil Blenkinsop in Berlin and Jackie Frank in Washington)