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Tuesday, 28 December, 1999, 16:05 GMT
Simon Wiesenthal: Nazi-hunter

Simon Wiesenthal has made the pursuit of Nazis his life's work


Concentration camp survivor Simon Wiesenthal is one of the few people to wish the perpetrators of the Nazi Holocaust a long life - long enough to see them brought to trial for their crimes.

Wiesenthal, himself 91 years old on New Year's Eve, has spent more than half his life doggedly gathering information on the whereabouts of fugitive Nazis.

Showered with honours for his work, Wiesenthal has concerned himself with not only tracing those privy to the planning of the Holocaust at its highest level, but also with bringing the smallest cogs of the Nazi machine to justice.


Wiesenthal survived the Nazi death camps
Wiesenthal was born in Austria-Hungary, in what is now Lviv, Ukraine. Having survived the Soviet invasion of the area in the late 1930s, Weisenthal and his wife again faced extreme peril with the arrival of the Nazis in 1941.

While Cyla Wiesenthal escaped Nazi persecution by masquerading as a Pole, her husband was imprisoned in a succession of concentration camps.

As the advancing Red Army pushed towards Germany, Wiesenthal was force to march westwards by his SS guards. The survivors of this arduous trek were finally liberated by US troops from the Mauthausen camp, Austria, in May 1945.

Almost as soon as he had recovered his strength, Wiesenthal was aiding his liberators to gather evidence against the perpetrators of the Holocaust.


Josef Mengele evaded justice for his war crimes
In 1947 he helped establish a centre in Linz - the town where Adolf Hitler spent much of his childhood - devoted to collecting information for use in future war crimes trials.

Despite the successes of the Nuremberg trials, in which many of Hitler's inner circle were sentenced, many of the Nazi regime's most notorious killers, such as Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele, remained unaccounted for.

With the chilling of relations between East and West, the hunt for these Nazis fell from the political agenda. Dispirited, Wiesenthal closed the Linz office in 1954.

His enthusiasm for Nazi hunting was rekindled with the capture of Adolf Eichmann by Israeli agents in 1960. Wiesenthal claims he knew the "architect" of the Holocaust was living in Argentina but could interest no one with the information.


Adolf Eichmann masterminded the Holocaust
Buoyed by the trial and eventual execution of the Nazi technocrat, Wiesenthal opened the Jewish Documentation Centre in Vienna.

Collating sightings and tip-offs from a worldwide network of sympathisers, human rights activists and even former Nazis themselves, Wiesenthal pursued the 90,000 people named in the German war crimes files.

He was instrumental in bringing Fritz Strangl, the commandant of the camps at Treblinka and Sobibor, to justice in West Germany in 1967.

Wiesenthal also silenced those who doubted the authenticity of the Anne Frank diaries, locating the Nazi officer who deported the teenager to the death camps.


Wiesenthal found the man who deported Anne Frank
His international reputation, slightly dented by his initial reluctance to question the wartime conduct of the former Austrian president Kurt Waldheim, has allowed Wiesenthal to exert considerable pressure on politicians.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, set up in 1977, has pressed for the extradition of numerous war crimes suspects, as well as campaigning for the rights of Holocaust survivors and an end for pensions to SS officers.

In the wake of the extradition of Dinko Sakic, the Argentine Government bowed to Wiesenthal's wishes and set up a special body to hunt former Nazis.

Sakic had spent decades undisturbed in the country before being tried and convicted for the wartime deaths of more than 85,000 people in his Croatian concentration camp.


Camp commander Dinko Sakic during the war
Although the Simon Wiesenthal Centre is demanding a police investigation into Konrad Kalejis, an 86-year-old man living near Rugby, it is thought there will be no more great Nazi trials.

Hopes of bringing Heinrich Muller, Gestapo chief for Berlin, and Alois Brunner, aide to Eichmann, to court are fading fast.

Born 100 years ago, Muller is almost certainly dead. While Brunner, last spotted in Syria, would now be 88.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre has begun to refocus its attentions on monitoring far-right groups, campaigning for human rights and keeping at least the memory of the Holocaust alive.
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See also:
01 Apr 99 |  UK
Sawoniuk joins infamous list
19 Nov 98 |  Americas
Argentina delves into Nazi past
11 Apr 98 |  Europe
Croatia seeks extradition of Nazi in Argentina
04 Oct 99 |  Europe
Croatian court to give death camp verdict
04 May 98 |  Europe
Bormann's body 'identified'

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