Tuesday, September 20, 2005

OBT: Simon Wiesenthal

'Tis a sad, sad day . . .

Nazi hunter Wiesenthal dead at 96
Holocaust survivor dedicated his life to fighting prejudice
MSNBC


LOS ANGELES -- Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who helped track down Nazi war criminals following World War II and spent the later decades of his life fighting anti-Semitism and prejudice, has died aged 96.

A statement on the Simon Wiesenthal Center Web site said he died early Tuesday in Vienna, Austria.

Wiesenthal is crediting with helping to bring more than a thousand Nazi war criminals to justice.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said: "Simon Wiesenthal was the conscience of the Holocaust.

"When the Holocaust ended in 1945 and the whole world went home to forget, he alone remained behind to remember. He did not forget. He became the permanent representative of the victims, determined to bring the perpetrators of the history's greatest crime to justice.

"There was no press conference and no president or prime minister or world leader announced his appointment. He just took the job. It was a job no one else wanted.

"The task was overwhelming. The cause had few friends. The Allies were already focused on the Cold War, the survivors were rebuilding their shattered lives and Simon Wiesenthal was all alone, combining the role of both prosecutor and detective at the same time."

Wiesenthal, who had been an architect before World War II, changed his life's mission after the war, dedicating himself to trying to track down Nazi war criminals and to being a voice for the 6 million Jews who died during the onslaught. He himself lost 89 relatives in the Holocaust.

He spent more than 50 years hunting Nazi war criminals, speaking out against neo-Nazism and racism. Through his work, he said, some 1,100 Nazi war criminals were brought to justice.

"When history looks back I want people to know the Nazis weren't able to kill millions of people and get away with it," he once said.

His life's quest began after the Americans liberated the Mauthausen death camp in Austria where Wiesenthal was a prisoner in May 1945. It was his fifth death camp among the dozen Nazi camps in which he was imprisoned, and he weighed just 99 pounds when he was freed.

He said he quickly realized "there is no freedom without justice," and decided to dedicate "a few years" to seeking justice. "It became decades," he added.

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