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Posted Friday, June 18, 2004

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Friday, June 18, 2004


WiesenthalNazi hunter bows out with knighthood

By Roger Boyes

Wiesenthal believes his work must continue to remind world of a tarnished past

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 Mr Wiesenthal, now 95, is ill - so frail that the ceremony will be conducted in his living room - and has withdrawn from the active search for Nazi criminals.

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 disappearing rapidly. Straw (right) with friend

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 histories.

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 safety.

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 true legacy.

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 concentration camp.


© Copyright of Times Newspapers Limited 2004.


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