‘My work is done,’ says Nazi hunter

The Scotsman, Apr. 18, 2003
http://www.thescotsman.co.uk/
ALLAN HALL IN BERLIN

Simon Wiesenthal, the world’s most famous Nazi-hunter, says he is ending a life-long effort to track down and bring to justice the murderers of his people.

Mr Wiesenthal lost 89 members of his family in the Holocaust but survived to become the conscience of a post-war world.

With few Nazis left and the vagaries of old age catching up with him, Mr Wiesenthal, 94, says in an interview published today that the days of hunting down the killers are over.

“I found the mass murderers I was looking for, and I have outlived all of them,” he told the Austrian weekly magazine Format. “If there’s a few I didn’t look for, they are now too old and fragile to stand trial. My work is done.

“It is very difficult to get the public to really understand the crimes of these people,” he said in a statement released ahead of the magazine’s publication.

“Still I have to bother with people and groups that claim that the Holocaust never happened.”

After the Second World War, Mr Wiesenthal chose Vienna for his operations because of the massive support the Viennese had given to Hitler during his rise to power and subsequent years at the top.

He was a thorn in the side of the establishment, a needle in the conscience of a nation that liked to claim it was Nazism’s first victim rather than its most potent enabler.

He lived by a simple creed that he related to all journalists and any other visitors down the years: “One day we will all be called before God and we will be asked to account for ourselves. One will say he was a carpenter, another a tailor, a third a jeweller. But I will be able to say – I did not forget you.”

Ever since the war ended and the SS and Gestapo killers, the desk murderers and the extermination camp operatives, scurried for their lives, Mr Wiesenthal devoted himself to trying to catch them.

Born in Galicia, now in the Ukraine but then part of the decrepit Austro-Hungarian empire, he was hounded through a dozen concentration camps himself, lost his mother, cousins, uncles and aunts and weighed just seven stone when he was liberated from Mathausen in Austria in May, 1945.

When he was released he travelled to Nuremberg to pore over 110,000 tonnes of documents for evidence leading to Nazi suspects. He worked initially for the war crimes section of the US army.

After establishing his first HQ in Linz in 1947, the place where Hitler spent much of his childhood, he opened the Documentation Centre in Vienna in 1960.

It soon became famous throughout the world as he struggled to find the architects of the Final Solution of the Jewish Question: the Holocaust that claimed six million Jews.

As his story took on the status of legend, he claimed in a biography The Murderers Among Us to have been instrumental in finding Adolf Eichmann, the supreme logistician of the Holocaust, in Buenos Aires.

He was involved in finding and bringing Franz Strangl, the commandant of the camps at Treblinka and Sobibor, where more than 1.5 million people died, to justice in West Germany in 1967.

He never ceased to look for Josef Mengele, the doctor who ran horrific “research” on sets of twins and other luckless inmates at Auschwitz, who drowned in South America before he could be called to justice.

One of his most satisfying achievements was finding the Gestapo officer who arrested Anne Frank and her family in their hiding place in Amsterdam.

In finding the official, called Silberbauer, and getting him to admit to the arrest of the author of the world’s most poignant diary, he was able to silence at least some of those who tried to libel it as a fake.

The Jewish rights organisation, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, was established in Los Angeles in 1977 in honour of his life’s work.

Honoured by almost every country in the world, he inspired centres in the US that chart the Holocaust experience and list intolerance wherever it is found in the world.

Mr Wiesenthal has said he will go to his grave with two unsolved cases nagging him – that of Heinrich Müller, the Gestapo chief, and Alois Brunner, inventor of the mobile gas chambers in the early days of the mass extermination effort.

The former is almost certainly dead. Brunner would be well over 90 if still alive in Syria, where he was given sanctuary in the 1950s.

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