About Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal dies at 96
|September 22nd, 2005||#1|
| || |
Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal dies at 96 info
By Ron Grossman
On May 9, 1945, a virtual skeleton of a concentration camp survivor handed some U.S. troops a crumpled note carrying a message neither they nor the world wanted to hear.
During a World War II internment in the notorious Mauthausen camp in Austria, Simon Wiesenthal had secretly kept a list of the Nazis who ran it. "There is nothing more important for you to see," Wiesenthal said, pressing the first of what would be his long lists of Nazi murderers upon the bewildered soldiers who thought him too frail to live.
After his death Tuesday in his Vienna home, world leaders saluted the life and work of Wiesenthal, who is credited with bringing at least 1,100 perpetrators of the Holocaust to justice.
Austrian President Heinz Fischer, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Terry Davis, Chairman of the Council of Europe, hailed Wiesenthal, who was 96, as a towering figure of modern history.
"We have the impression that a legendary horseman is leaving on his horse for another world," said Serge Klarsfeld, president of the Association of Jewish Deportees in France, which represents that country's share of the 6 million Jews who died in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Six decades ago, the accolades were far fewer. Though the United States and its allies fought a bloody war to end Adolf Hitler's aggressions, World War II quickly segued into the Cold War. Germany was a divided battleground in that new conflict, and America and Great Britain were anxious to get their part of the country up and running again as a bulwark against a feared Soviet aggression. Top Nazi leaders were tried and convicted of war crimes, but because there was a shortage of German officials with clean hands, the Western allies pressed into service many former Nazis quickly pronounced as "rehabilitated."
Wiesenthal was convinced, however, that there can be no statute of limitations on genocide -- an ethical imperative he unceasingly preached, in a sometimes lonely and threadbare campaign, until his retirement as the world's most celebrated Nazi hunter two years ago.
"Except for the publicity that Wiesenthal gave to the cause, a lot of governments which are still prosecuting former Nazis would have given up on the effort, decades ago," said Eli Rosenbaum, director of the government agency that hunts Nazis, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Special Investigations.
Wiesenthal's campaign also brought a measure of comfort to Holocaust survivors who couldn't find the words to express the horrors they had experienced.
"He was my hero," said Sam Harris, 70, who survived by hiding under a bed in a Nazi work camp in Poland. "There is a sadness to his passing."
Harris' older sister was interned in the camp, but the Germans had no use for young children, so he would have perished if she hadn't hidden him and shared her meager food ration. Their parents went to the gas chambers, and Harris was sent to the United States after the war and adopted by a couple in the Chicago suburbs.
"Wiesenthal's was a welcome voice to a young person who didn't want to talk about the Holocaust," Harris said. "I just wanted to be a child, like everybody else."
Harris is president of the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois, having responded in later life to a message of Wiesenthal's. "He said, 'Survival is a privilege that entitles obligation,"' recalled Harris.
That imperative dominated the public and private life of Wiesenthal, who was born Dec. 31, 1908, to merchants in what is now Ukraine. Trained as an architectural engineer, he had an architectural practice in Poland before he and his family were interned when the Germans occupied the country. Eighty-nine members of his and his wife's family perished during the Final Solution, the Nazi campaign to exterminate European Jewry. Wiesenthal weighed less than 100 pounds when he left the concentration camp.
"His wife used to say, 'You're not just married to me, you're married to the six million,"' recalled Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, the American branch of Wiesenthal's campaign.
In its early days, it was a one-man operation. Hier recalled that in 1954, because of a lack of funds, Wiesenthal had to close the office of the Jewish Historical Documentation Center he had founded in 1947 in Linz, Austria, Hitler's hometown. For the next several years, he supported himself as a relief worker, but he kept an ear cocked for clues to the whereabouts of missing Nazis -- especially Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust.
When he learned that Eichmann's family was moving abroad from Europe, Wiesenthal guessed their destination was Argentina, which had given a number of Nazis shelter, and he notified Israeli officials. When Eichmann was captured in Argentina by Israeli commandos, the publicity surrounding his 1961 trial in Jerusalem made Wiesenthal famous. He opened a new office in Vienna and returned to Nazi-hunting full time.
He took particular pride in tracking down an Austrian policeman, Karl Silberbauer, who admitted to being the Gestapo officer who had taken Anne Frank's family prisoner.
Wiesenthal recounted his experiences in a memoir, "The Sunflower," and his life's work was the subject of two movies, "The Murderers Among Us" and "The Odessa File."
Although he was a celebrity internationally, Wiesenthal had a troubled relationship with fellow Austrians, who had participated in the Holocaust disproportionate to their numbers in Hitler's empire. There was an active neo-Nazi movement in postwar Vienna.
"They would shout obscenities when he walked down the street," Hier said.
A bomb exploded in 1982 outside the apartment Wiesenthal shared with his wife, Cyla, also a Holocaust survivor. After that, policemen had to be posted outside their front door.
He was also famed for his public feuds, notably with former Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky, who was Jewish. In 1970, Wiesenthal announced that four members of Kreisky's Cabinet had Nazi ties.
Wiesenthal, Kreisky replied, "is living from telling the world that Austria is anti-Semitic. What else can he do?"
He had his critics in the wider Jewish community, too. He was accused of being a grandstander. His biographer, Alan Levy, reports that Wiesenthal was inordinately jealous of fellow survivor and author Elie Wiesel, who won a Nobel Prize, an honor that Wiesenthal failed to gain.
Eva Kor, who survived Auschwitz to found a Holocaust museum in Terre Haute, Ind., thinks there is a limit to what can be accomplished by hunting down every last Nazi. Education is the key, she says, to preventing a resurgence of anti-Semitism, like that which resulted in an arson fire that destroyed her small museum two years ago.
"You don't eradicate hatred by bringing people to trial," said Kor. "You do a much better job of healing by reconciliation."
Hier, though, recalled that Wiesenthal saw his mission as not one of vengeance but remembrance. He spoke out against new atrocities against other victims, in Sudan, Rwanda and the Balkans.
"He wanted to protect my -- and your -- grandchildren," said Hier, "by putting tomorrow's murderers on notice that the world wouldn't overlook their crimes."
Wiesenthal's wife died in 2003. Their daughter, Paulinka Kreisberg, lives in Israel, where Wiesenthal will be buried Friday. A memorial service was scheduled in Vienna on Wednesday, The Associated Press reported.
Noting that the Jewish High Holidays begin shortly, Hier noted that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur mark a period of penitence. The Almighty takes note of his creatures' lives, scoring them on the basis of their repentance, their acts of charity and their prayers. On the first two, there is no doubt of Wiesenthal's merits. Yet he wasn't an observant Jew, Hier noted.
"Still, his whole career was a prayer," he said.
|September 22nd, 2005||#2|
| || |
And your point is?
"The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental." - John Steinbeck
|September 22nd, 2005||#4|
| || |
Well this is the political discussion forum so I thought this would go somewhere, not just an FYI post. I read this kinda hoping, nay, anticipating some sort of question or comment to foment discussion. Oh well.
|September 22nd, 2005||#9|
| || |
To us who routinely grab news from the Internet, it's sometimes hard to even imagine someone living in a modern country like the USA, Britain, Australia, France, Canada, Spain, etc. who isn't up on current events. However, I have in-laws in western Kansas (not exactly a cultural mecca) who are the nicest, most generous folks, but they have 2 broadcast TV channels and receive a local weekly newspaper of about 30 pages. They have no Internet, email, cable, or satellite dish, and 95% of their lives are tied up in their farm and the small town they live in.
In that setting, their political and religious views are very clear cut, and ultra conservative. They are now in their 60's and travel several times a year to Arkansas and Arizona, but their view of the world is such that they believe junk mail they receive and would never discount a gossip story no matter how incredible it is. There are millions of folks just like this in rural areas around the world. Decent folks who, nonetheless, are very suceptible to the scoundrels of the world.
It is because of these folks that people like Simon Wiesenthal are so very important. Left to their own devices, most people would let attrocities like genocides, terrorist attacks, and even natural disasters slip away into the forgotten realms of history books. For every Mr. Wiesenthal, there is a young punk or old Nazi who professes loudly that the holocaust never happened. While I believe that most of the people who ran the death camps are probably dead by now, the ignorance, self-righteousness, and apathy that allowed them to happen are still very prevalent today.
If you're going through hell . . . keep going.
|September 22nd, 2005||#10|
| || |
I admired the man because he wanted to mete out justice, not just recognize and forgive the animals who preyed on mankind like the demons they were. I hope he felt a little vindication every time a high ranking NAZI hit the end of a rope or faced a firing squad. We could use more real men like him. I for one will mourn his passing.
“War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse.”
—John Stuart Mill