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Simon Wiesenthal

Simon Wiesenthal, 1999
Born December 31, 1908(1908-12-31)
Buczacz, Kingdom of Galicia, Austria-Hungary
Died September 20, 2005 (aged 96)
Vienna, Austria
Cause of death Natural Cause
Resting place Herzliya, Israel
Nationality Austrian Austria
Occupation Architectural Engineer, Nazi hunter
Employer U.S. Army
Known for Simon Wiesenthal Center, Jewish Documentation Center
Religion Judaism
Parents Asher Wiesenthal

Simon Wiesenthal KBE (December 31, 1908 – September 20, 2005) was an Austrian-Jewish architectural engineer and Holocaust survivor who became famous after World War II for his work as a Nazi hunter who pursued Nazi war criminals.

Following four and a half years in the German concentration camps such as Janowska, Plaszow, and Mauthausen during World War II, Wiesenthal dedicated most of his life to tracking down and gathering information on fugitive Nazis so that they could be brought to justice for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 1947, he co-founded the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Linz, Austria, in order to gather information for future war crime trials. Later he opened Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna. Wiesenthal wrote The Sunflower, which describes a life-changing event he experienced when he was in the camp.


Wiesenthal died in his sleep at age 96 in Vienna on September 20, 2005, and was buried in the city of Herzliya in Israel on 23 September. He is survived by his daughter, Paulinka Kriesberg, and three grandchildren. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, located in Los Angeles in the United States, is named in his honor.

Wiesenthal was born at 11:30 pm on Thursday, December 31, 1908 in Buczacz, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria (then part of Austria-Hungary, now Buchach, Ternopil Oblast in Ukraine). He enjoyed a relatively pleasant early childhood, during which his father, Asher Wiesenthal, a 1905 refugee from the pogroms of czarist Russia (1869-1917), became an established resident in Buczacz trading in sugar and other wholesale commodities.

With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, however, his father, as a reservist in the Austro-Hungarian Army, was called to active duty and died in combat on the Eastern Front in 1917. With Russian control of Galicia during this period, Wiesenthal and his remaining family (mother and brother) fled taking refuge in Vienna, Austria.

Wiesenthal and his brother went to school in Vienna until the Russian retreat from Galicia in 1917, when they moved back to Buczacz. At the Humanistic Gymnasium, where Simon went to school during those years, he met his future wife Cyla Muller, whom he would marry in 1936. In 1925, his mother remarried and moved with his brother to the Carpathian Mountains. Simon opted to continue his studies in Buczacz, but visited them often.

After graduating high school in 1927, he was denied admission to the Polish Lwów Polytechnic because of quota restrictions on Jewish students.[1] In 1929 he attended the Czech Technical University in Prague where he was highly regarded as a raconteur. Although Wiesenthal claimed he graduated in 1932 and most biographies repeat his claim, he did not complete his degree.[2]

In 1934, Wiesenthal apprenticed to a building engineer in Stalinist Soviet Ukraine, spending a few weeks in Kharkiv and Kiev and a further two years in the Black Sea port of Odessa.

Returning to Galicia in late 1935, Wiesenthal claimed he was finally allowed to enter Lwów Polytechnic and tried to earn the advanced degree that would allow him to practice architecture in Poland. However, Lviv archives have no record of his having studied there. According to later biographies, following his marriage to Cyla in 1936, he opened his own architectural office in Lviv where he specialised in elegant villas, which wealthy Polish Jews were building despite the threats of Nazism to the west. He maintained he finished his final job a week before the German invasion, which began on September 1, 1939. However, Polish records indicate he never registered or worked as a builder or architect and the résumé Wiesenthal himself wrote at the end of the war stated that he was working as a supervisor in a Lviv furniture factory from 1935 until December 1939.[2]

Contents

World War II


Wiesenthal was living in Lwów (then part of Poland, and now Lviv, the largest city in western Ukraine), when World War II began. As a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Western Ukraine and it with Lviv was annexed by the Soviet Union on 17 September 1939. Wiesenthal's stepfather and stepbrother were killed by agents of the NKVD, the Soviet state security and secret police, as a part of the anti-Polish purge designed to eliminate all so-called "Polish enemies of the people" that followed the Soviet occupation of Lviv. Wiesenthal was forced to close his firm and work in a mattress factory. He bribed a NKVD commissar to prevent a deportation of himself, his wife and mother to a Gulag labor camp in Siberia. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Wiesenthal and his family were captured.

As recounted in Wiesenthal's memoir, The Murderers Among Us, written with Joseph Wechsberg, Wiesenthal survived an early wave of executions during the Holocaust thanks to the intervention of a man named Bodnar, a Ukrainian auxiliary policeman who, on July 6, 1941, saved him from execution by the Nazis then occupying Lviv. This account is contradicted by documentation. In 1945 Wiesenthal testified to War crimes investigators that he had been arrested on July 13, after the executions had ceased, and managed to escape "through a bribe" before the executions resumed.[2]

In the ghetto, Wiesenthal’s mother was crammed among other Jewish women on to a freight train to the extermination camp of Bełżec, where she perished in August 1942. Around the same time, Cyla Wiesenthal found out her mother had been shot in Buczacz on her front porch by a Ukrainian policeman as she was being evicted from her home. Cyla and Simon Wiesenthal lost 89 relatives during the Holocaust.

In late 1941, Wiesenthal and his wife were first imprisoned in the Janowska Street camp in the suburbs of the city, where they were forced to work on the local railroad. Simon and Cyla worked at the Lviv Railroad Repair Yard where Simon painted Swastika and Eagle Shields. The head SS soldier was a man named Heinrich Gunthert. Gunthert asked Wiesenthal, on one occasion, where he was educated. Wiesenthal, remembering that an educated Jew was a dead Jew, lied and said he went to a trade school. Several men stated that he lied and Gunthert confronted him. He asked Wiesenthal why he lied and Wiesenthal confessed. Gunthert respected Wiesenthal for his education and gave him the job of Architectural Design and a comfortable office to work in. The German senior inspector at the workshop, Adolf Kohlrautz, who was secretly anti-Nazi, gave him two pistols to hide in his office and kept them a secret.

Members of the Home Army, the underground Polish army, helped Cyla Wiesenthal escape from the camp and provided her with false documents in exchange for diagrams of railroad junctions drawn by her husband. Cyla Wiesenthal was able to hide her Jewish identity from the Nazis because of her blonde hair and survived the war as a forced-laborer in the Rhineland. Until the end of the war, Simon believed she had perished in the Warsaw Uprising. Following their surprising reunion, they soon had their first and only child, Pauline, in 1946 (who now lives in Israel).

April 20 (1943) marked Hitler's 54th birthday and the Janowska guards decided to shoot 54 Jews in celebration. Two SS guards picked Wiesenthal and two other inmates and took them to the execution site. Wiesenthal remembers looking at Gunthert and Gunthert shrugging his shoulders at him and the three men were lined up with other prisoners who were then stripped and led through the "Hose," a 6'-7' wide passage leading to an area of sandpits where numerous bodies already lay. The prisoners were lined up hands at the back of their necks. Five SS men and the SS commander came walking out with submachine guns. Wiesenthal heard shots and counted five while one prisoner fell. Wiesenthal stopped counting and men kept falling. They were the only three men left and then the loudspeaker rang out, "Wiesenthal is needed at the front." At the front of the camp stood Kohlrautz who had convinced the camp commander it was essential to keep Wiesenthal alive to paint posters saying "Wir lieben unseren Führer!" ("We love our Leader!"). He was saved, again. On October 2, 1943, according to Wiesenthal, Kohlrautz warned him that the camp and its prisoners were shortly to be liquidated. Kohlrautz gave him and a friend passes to visit a stationery shop in town, accompanied by a Ukrainian guard. They managed to escape out the back while the Ukrainian waited at the front.

There is no corroboration for the above account. In Wiesenthal’s testimony to the War crime investigators in May 1945, he does not mention these incidents or Kohlrautz’ part in them and neither were the events included in an affidavit he made in August 1954 recounting his wartime experiences. He did however mention senior inspector Kohlrautz in both stating that he was killed in the battle for Berlin in April 1945. Wiesenthal later told his biographers Kohlrautz had been killed on the Russian front in 1944.[2]

After his escape he joined the Polish underground where his expertise in engineering and architecture would help the Polish Partisans with bunkers and lines of fortification against German forces.

He was recaptured in June of the following year (1944) by Gestapo officers and interned in Gross-Rosen, a camp near Wrocław. According to Wiesenthal, he was working in the quarry when a startled guard dropped a rock on his foot and he was hospitalised. After he had his big toe amputated and his foot became gangrenous, 6,000 prisoners from the camp were evacuated to Chemnitz. Using a broom handle for a walking stick he was one of 4,800 who survived the 170 mile march. From Chemnitz the prisoners were marched to Mauthausen concentration camp, arriving on February 15, 1945. Wiesenthal had collapsed in the snow and when lorries arrived to collect those who had died on the march he was picked up and taken to the crematorium. Workers there noticed that he was still alive and he was sent to the "death block" for the mortally ill. In 1961, Wiesenthal was interviewed about his war years for the Yad VaShem archives. He claimed that the gangrene from his foot had spread up to his knee and he lay in a bed and unable to get up for the three months until the end of the war, surviving on 200 calories a day. When Mauthausen was liberated on May 5, 1945 he walked out to greet the Americans.[2]

Although Wiesenthal later claimed to have been in 13 concentration camps, including five death camps — he had in fact been in no more than six camps.

Nazi-hunter

At the time of his liberation, Wiesenthal stood at 1.80 m (5'11"), and weighed less than 45 kg (99 lb). As soon as his health improved, Wiesenthal claimed he began working for the U.S. Army gathering documentation for the Nazi war crimes trials. Wiesenthal’s own resume does not mention this work for the Americans but lists his occupation at the time as the vice-chairman of the Jewish Central Committee for the US zone, based in Linz, Austria. Its task was to draw up lists of survivors that other survivors could consult in their hunt for relatives. He was also president of the Paris-based International Concentration Camp Organisation and was involved with the Berihah, who smuggled Jews out of Europe to Palestine. In February 1947, he and 30 other volunteers founded the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Linz, in order to gather information for future trials. However, as the U.S. and the Soviet Union lost interest in further war crimes trials, the group drifted apart after compiling 3,289 reports. Wiesenthal continued to gather information in his spare time while working full-time to help those affected by World War II.[2]

During this time, Wiesenthal claimed to be instrumental in the capture and conviction of the transport manager of the "Final Solution," Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires. He was known to be helping in the manhunt for the former Nazi official but the extent of his involvement with his capture remains disputed. He was invited by Yad Vashem to talk about his part in tracking Eichmann down but he failed to mention that his whole correspondence had gone through the Israeli embassy or that Israeli intelligence had been involved. Wiesenthal’s claims angered Isser Harel, then head of the Mossad, and when he published his own memoirs in 1971 he made no mention of Wiesenthal. Harel's account has been disputed at book length but Wiesenthal's contributions to Eichmann’s capture have never been confirmed.[3]

It should be noted, in regard to this and other accusations, that Wiesenthal's ecumenical but determined attitude toward tracking human rights abuses, represented by his comments, "justice, not vengeance," and "I am not a hater," have put him at odds with a wide variety of institutions and people over the years. One such person was Elie Wiesel who took issue with Wiesenthal's efforts to recognize the non-Jewish victims of the Nazi regime.[4]

After Eichmann was executed in Israel in 1962, Wiesenthal reopened the Jewish Documentation Center, which now focused on other cases. Among his most high-profile successes was the capture of 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 16 Nazis later put on trial in West Germany for the murder of the Jewish population of Lwów and also captured Franz Stangl, the commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps, and Hermine Braunsteiner-Ryan, a former Aufseherin (literally, "(female) overseer") living in Queens who had ordered and participated in the torture and murder of thousands of women and children at Majdanek. Braunsteiner's capture led to the establishment of the Office of Special Investigations in the United States, to investigate Nazi activity within the US.

Austrian politics and later life

In the 1970s he became involved in Austrian politics when he pointed out that several ministers in Bruno Kreisky's newly formed Socialist government had been Nazis when Austria was part of the Third Reich. Kreisky, himself Jewish, responded by attacking Wiesenthal as a Nestbeschmutzer (someone who dirties their own nest). In Austria, which took decades to acknowledge its role in Nazi crimes, Wiesenthal was ignored and often insulted. In 1975, after Wiesenthal had released a report on FPÖ party chairman Friedrich Peter's Nazi past, Chancellor Bruno Kreisky suggested Wiesenthal was part of a "certain mafia" seeking to besmirch Austria and even claimed Wiesenthal had collaborated with Nazis and Gestapo to survive. Wiesenthal labeled the claim ridiculous, sued Kreisky for libel and won.

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

During the Waldheim affair, Wiesenthal defended the Austrian president, for which he was severely criticized.

Even after turning 90, Wiesenthal spent time at his small office in the Jewish Documentation Center in central Vienna. 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 Simon Wiesenthal, the last major Austrian war criminal still alive is Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann's right-hand man, who was last seen by reliable witnesses in 1992. However, Wiesenthal was also believed to be working on the case of Aribert Heim, one of the most notorious and wanted Nazi concentration camp doctors, prior to his retirement.

Wiesenthal spent his last years in Vienna, where his wife, Cyla, died of natural causes on 10 November 2003, at the age of 95. Wiesenthal died in his sleep at age 96 in Vienna on September 20, 2005, and was buried in the city of Herzliya in Israel on 23 September. He is survived by his daughter, Paulinka Kriesberg, and three grandchildren.

In a statement on Wiesenthal's death, Council of Europe chairman Terry Davis said, "Without Simon Wiesenthal's relentless effort to find Nazi criminals and bring them to justice, and to fight anti-Semitism and prejudice, Europe would never have succeeded in healing its wounds and reconciling itself... He was a soldier of justice, which is indispensable to our freedom, stability and peace."

In October, 2006, the Vienna city council overwhelmingly approved renaming a street in Wiesenthal's honor. The newly-named Simon-Wiesenthal-Gasse was formerly known as Ichmanngasse. The former name honored Franz Ichmann, a songwriter in the early 20th century, and card-carrying member of the Nazi party.[5]

Criticism

A biography by Guy Walters asserts that many of Wiesenthal's claims regarding his education, wartime experiences and Nazi hunting exploits are untrue or exaggerated. Walters calls Wiesenthal’s claims "an illusion mounted for a good cause". It is difficult to establish a reliable narrative of Wiesenthal’s life due to the inconsistencies between his three memoirs which are in turn all contradicted by contemporary records. It is partly thanks to Wiesenthal that the Holocaust has been remembered and properly documented.[6]

British author Guy Walters has characterized Wiesenthal as "a liar," and written that he would "[C]oncoct outrageous stories about his war years and make false claims about his academic career. There are so many inconsistencies between his three main memoirs and between those memoirs and contemporaneous documents, that it is impossible to establish a reliable narrative from them. Wiesenthal’s scant regard for the truth makes it possible to doubt everything he ever wrote or said."[7] Daniel Finkelstein has described Walters research as "impeccable" and reported that the Wiener Library supports his revaluation of Wiesenthal. The Library's director Ben Barkow stated that ""accepting that Wiesenthal was a showman and a braggart and, yes, even a liar, can live alongside acknowledging the contribution he made".[8]

Merits

Dramatic portrayals

Documentary

"The Art of Remembrance: Simon Wiesenthal", [1]by filmmakers Hannah Heer & Werner Schmiedel, premiered in the USA in 1995 at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in New York City, featuring exclusive interviews with Simon Wiesenthal, Col. Richard Seibel, and Stanley Robbin, and music composed by John Zorn.

A feature-length documentary of Simon Wiesenthal's life, called I Have Never Forgotten You: The Life & Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal, was released in early 2007. It was produced by Moriah Films, the Academy Award-winning media subdivision of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The film is narrated by Academy Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman.

As an Author

  • Writing under the pen name Mischka Kukin, Wiesenthal published Humor Behind the Iron Curtain in 1962. This is the earliest known compendium of jokes from the Soviet Bloc countries published in the west.
  • The Murderers Among Us: The Simon Wiesenthal Memoirs (1967)
  • The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness (1976)
  • Every Day Remembrance Day: A Chronicle of Jewish Martyrdom (1987)

See also

References

  1. ^ Levy, Alan Nazi Hunter: The Wiesenthal File ( Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1993), p. 21
  2. ^ a b c d e f Walters, Guy (July 19, 2009). "The head Nazi-hunter’s trail of lies". The Sunday Times. http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_extracts/article6718913.ece. Retrieved July 26, 2009. 
  3. ^ Levy, 137-8, refers to but does not quote from Richard A. Stein, Documents against Words: Simon Wiesenthal's Conflict with the World Jewish Congress, issued in English in Holland in 1992.
  4. ^ Levy, 124-5, 339-54 and 435-7, gives instances of run-ins with Nahum Goldman of the World Jewish Congress, Austrian prime minister Bruno Kriesky, and, lastly, with Elie Wiesel. Of these, only Wiesel was antagonized specifically by Wiesenthal's insistence on recognizing non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust.
  5. ^ "Vienna street named after Wiesenthal". Article from the website of the European Jewish Press. Accessed 11 January, 2007
  6. ^ Walters, Guy (2009). Hunting Evil. Bantam Press. ISBN 0593059913. 
  7. ^ Sunday Times of London "The head Nazi-hunter’s trail of lies," by Guy Walters (July 18th, 2009 - retrieved on July 21st, 2009).
  8. ^ It is right to expose Wiesenthal The Jewish Chronicle August 20, 2009
  • Simon Wiesenthal - Tuviah Friedman Korrespondenz (Documentenbook) by Germany National Bibliothek H.S.

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Simon Wiesenthal (December 31, 1908 – September 20, 2005) was a Jewish survivor of the Nazi concentration camps who became an Austrian Nazi-hunter.

Contents

Sourced

  • You're a religious man. You believe in God and life after death. I also believe. When we come to the other world and meet the millions of Jews who died in the camps and they ask us, 'What have you done?' there will be many answers. You will say, 'I became a jeweler.' Another will say, 'I smuggled coffee and American cigarettes.' Still another will say, 'I built houses,' but I will say, 'I didn't forget you.'
    • New York Times Obituary, 9/20/2005

Attributed

  • 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.
    • on his retirement
  • When history looks back I want people to know the Nazis weren't able to kill millions of people and get away with it.
    • quoted in AP story on his death
  • There is no freedom without justice.
    • quoted in AP story on his death
  • We are living in a time of the trivialization of the word 'Holocaust,' What happened to the Jews cannot be compared with all the other crimes. Every Jew had a death sentence without a date.
    • AP interview in 1999
  • The most important thing I have done is to fight against forgetting and to keep remembrance alive. It is very important to let people know that our enemies are not forgotten.
    • AP interview in 1999

Quotes about Wiesenthal

  • 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, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
  • [Wiesenthal] brought justice to those who had escaped justice. He acted on behalf of 6 million people who could no longer defend themselves.
    • Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev

External links

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