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Friday, June 18, 2004
hunter bows out with knighthood
By Roger Boyes
Wiesenthal believes his work must continue to
remind world of a
SIMON WIESENTHAL, the last great
Nazi hunter, will be knighted by Britain today in a
tribute to his role in tracking down more than
1,000 war criminals from the Third Reich.
The presentation for the appointment as Knight
Commander of the Order of the British Empire, by
John Macgregor, the British Ambassador to
Vienna, is likely to be a poignant one. Mr
Wiesenthal, now 95, is ill - so frail that the
ceremony will be conducted in his living room - and
has withdrawn from the active search for Nazi
Since many of the suspects are almost as old as
Mr Wiesenthal, many of the witnesses as infirm as
he is, and the victims are dead, the chances of
successfully bringing anyone to trial are
The citation by Jack Straw, the Foreign
Secretary, [right with friend] says
that Mr Wiesenthal "has been untiring in his
service to the Jewish communities in the United
Kingdom and elsewhere by helping to right at least
some of the awful wrongs of the Holocaust".
There was something final about the minister's
wording, as if Mr Wiesenthal's mission was now
over. The Nazi hunter's view, however, is that the
search must continue in a different form - as a way
of reminding societies about their tarnished
Mr Wiesenthal, an architect, was, from 1941, an
inmate of 12 different Nazi concentration and
labour camps. Informed by a network of contacts
gained in these and other camps, Mr Wiesenthal set
up a documentation centre in the Austrian city of
Linz, later moving all his files to Vienna.
He played an important role in the hunt for
Adolf Eichmann, one of the planners of the
Holocaust, who was captured by Israeli agents in
Argentina in 1960.
The small, quietly spoken man spearheaded the
search for leading concentration camp staff, for
the Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele, and
successfully lobbied several governments to
investigate men and women who had switched
identities after the war and become respectable
pillars of their local townships.
The paper trail took him to the strange closed
communities of South America where old Nazis,
protected by sympathetic dictators or governors,
hid from public view. He became the bane of Odessa,
the secret society that carried former Nazis to
As anger built up in Jewish communities about
the numbers of Nazis on the run, Mr Wiesenthal's
work started to capture the public imagination and
he was portrayed in at least two successful
Hollywood films, The Boys From Brazil and
The Odessa File. It was the raising of
public awareness about war criminals, rather than
the number of convictions, that was Mr Wiesenthal's
As early as the 1980s, Mr Wiesenthal understood
that Nazi hunting had to change: it could no longer
focus solely on sending war criminals to prison.
Rather, it was about keeping memories alive. In
that sense, he is not the last of the hunters.
The Simon Wiesenthal
Centre in Los Angeles and its branch in
Jerusalem have been very active in digging up
information about suspected war criminals in, for
example, the Baltic states. Efraim Zuroff of the
Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Jerusalem has launched
Operation Last Chance, offering rewards to those in
the Baltic republics who can supply information on
wartime atrocities. This has helped to flush out
men who were previously considered to be patriotic
Latvians or Lithuanians - because they fought
against invading Russians - but who were involved
in rounding up Jews.
Other Nazi-hunting activities - conducted with
Mr Wiesenthal's blessing - include the gathering
and presentation of information to the German
authorities about suspected war criminals who are
still receiving war pensions.
- Helped track down Adolf Eichmann, who
played a crucial role in planning the Holocaust.
He was seized by Israeli agents in Argentina and
hanged in 1961.
- Found in 1963 Karl Silberbauer, the
Gestapo officer who arrested the Jewish
schoolgirl Anne Frank. This helped quash
right-wing claims that Anne Frank's famous diary
was a forgery.
- Brought to justice 16 SS officers who were
put on trial in Stuttgart in 1966.
- Found Franz Stangl, camp commander in
Treblinka and Sobibor. Extradited from Brazil,
he was jailed for life in West Germany.
- Found Hermine Ryan. She supervised
the killing of hundreds of children in Majdanek
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Times Newspapers Limited 2004.
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