Simon Wiesenthal, the world-famous tracker of Nazi German war criminals, died recently at his home in Vienna, Austria. He was ninety-six years old. Mr. Wiesenthal played a key role in preserving the memory of the Holocaust – the murder of six-million Jews by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Simon Wiesenthal was born in 1908 in Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but restored to Poland in 1918, and now part of Ukraine. An interest in drawing, combined with a knowledge of homebuilding acquired in his stepfather’s brick factory, led him to study architecture at the Czech Technical University in Prague.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Mr. Wiesenthal became a victim of Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler’s plan to murder the Jews of Europe. He was thirty-three when he was taken from his home by the Nazis in 1941. When he was freed by American soldiers in 1945, he had spent nearly four years hovering near death in five different concentration camps. The Nazis killed eighty-nine members of his and his wife’s extended family.
After the Second World War, Mr. Wiesenthal abandoned his profession as an architect and set out to locate and bring to trial any Nazis who had escaped punishment for their role in killing six million Jews and five million others, including gypsies and communists. His targets included Adolf Eichmann, one of the principle planners of the Jewish annihilation; Fritz Stangl, commandant of two Nazi death camps; Karl Siberbauer, a Gestapo officer who arrested the young Anne Frank in her Amsterdam hideout; and Hermine Branunsteiner Ryan, who helped select women and children at a camp in Poland for extermination and was found living as a housewife in Queens, New York.
In a 1964 interview, Mr. Wiesenthal described attending Sabbath service with a fellow survivor who had become a wealthy jeweler. The man asked why Wiesenthal had not resumed his career in architecture. “You believe in God and life after death,” Wiesenthal told his friend. “I also believe. When we come to the other world and meet the millions of Jews who died in the camps and they ask us, ‘What have you done?’ there will be many answers. You will say, ‘I became a jeweler.’ Another will say, ‘I built houses.’ But I will say, ‘I didn’t forget you.’ ”
President George W. Bush called Simon Wiesenthal “a great hero for freedom. . . .a survivor and a witness who seared the horror of the Holocaust in the collective memory of the world. [T]he best way we can honor Simon Wiesenthal's memory," he said, "is to expose and confront anti-Semitism wherever it is found. By condemning this hatred at home and abroad, we stand with the victims of the Shoah [Holocaust] and declare to the world: Never again.”
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.