Simon Wiesenthal, writer, Died at 96


Simon Wiesenthal died on the 20th of September 2005 at the age of 96; he was an Austrian Nazi hunter and writer.

Born on the 31st of December 1908, in Buchach, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria.

His father, Asher Wiesenthal, was a wholesaler who had emigrated from the Russian Empire in 1905 to escape the frequent pogroms, violent campaigns against Jews.

A reservist in the Austro-Hungarian Army, Asher was called to active duty in 1914 at the start of World War I.

He died in combat on the Eastern Front in 1915. The remainder of the family—Simon, his younger brother Hillel, and his mother Rosa—fled to Vienna as the Russian army took control of Galicia.

The two boys attended a German-language Jewish school. The family returned to Buczacz in 1917 after the Russians retreated.

In 1947 he co-founded the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Linz, Austria, where he and others gathered information for future war crime trials and aided refugees in their search for lost relatives.

He opened the Jewish Documentation Center in Viennain 1961 and continued to try to locate missing Nazi war criminals.

He played a small role in locating Adolf Eichmann, who was captured in Buenos Aires in 1960, and worked closely with the Austrian justice ministry to prepare a dossier on Franz Stangl, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1971.

Wiesenthal and his brother attended high school at the Humanistic Gymnasium in Buchach, where classes were taught in Polish. There Simon met his future wife, Cyla Müller, whom he would marry in 1936.

Hillel fell and broke his back in 1923 and died the following year. Rosa remarried in 1926 and moved to Dolyna with her new husband, Isack Halperin, who owned a tile factory there.

Wiesenthal remained in Buczacz, living with the Müller family, until he graduated from high school—on his second attempt—in 1928.

Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor of the Nazi death camps, dedicated his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust and to hunting down the perpetrators still at large.

“When history looks back,” Wiesenthal explained, “I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.” His work stands as a reminder and a warning for future generations.

He worked in an architectural office in Lvov. Their life together was happy until 1939 when Germany and Russia signed their “non-aggression” pact and agreed to partition Poland between them; the Russian army soon occupied Lvov, and shortly afterward began the Red purge of Jewish merchants, factory owners and other professionals.

In the purge of “bourgeois” elements that followed the Soviet occupation of Lvov Oblast at the beginning of World War II, Wiesenthal’s stepfather was arrested by the NKVD (People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs – Soviet Secret Police) and eventually died in prison, his stepbrother was shot, and Wiesenthal himself, forced to close his business, became a mechanic in a bedspring factory.

Later he saved himself, his wife, and his mother from deportation to Siberia by bribing an NKVD commissar.

When the Germans displaced the Russians in 1941, a former employee of his, then serving the collaborationist Ukrainian Auxiliary police, helped him to escape execution by the Nazis.

In 1953, Wiesenthal received information that Eichmann was in Argentina from people who had spoken to him there.

He passed this information on to Israel through the Israeli embassy in Vienna and in 1954 also informed Nahum Goldmann, but the FBI had received information that Eichmann was in Damascus, Syria.

It was not until 1959 that Israel was informed by Germany that Eichmann was in Buenos Aires living under the alias of Ricardo Klement. He was captured there by Israeli agents and brought to Israel for trial.

Eichmann was found guilty of mass murder and executed on May 31, 1961. In November 1977, the Simon Wiesenthal Center was founded.

Today, together with its world renowned Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles and the New York Tolerancenter, it is an international center for Holocaust remembrance, the defense of human rights and the Jewish people.