Simon Wiesenthal’s lifelong pursuit of justice meant constantly having to confront painful personal memories of the Holocaust.
Born in 1908 into a well-to-do Jewish family in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Wiesenthal obtained a degree in architectural engineering.
His was a typical Holocaust survivor’s story – countless brushes with death and extraordinary luck. Miraculously his wife also lived – most of their family members did not.
He decided to dedicate himself to finding the perpetrators. But the Cold War presented the West with more pressing concerns than prosecuting ex-Nazis, andWiesenthal’s research centre in Linz, Austria, ran out of steam.
However one file was to give his work a new lease of life. When he handed over information to Israel that Adolf Eichmann was hiding in Argentina, he unlocked a chain of events that led to the capture and trial of one of Hitler’s most notorious henchmen.
Kidnapped by Israeli agents in Buenos Aires, the unassuming bureaucrat who had overseen the implementation of the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question“was brought to Israel, found guilty of mass murder and executed in May 1961.
Encouraged by the Eichmann case, Wiesenthal reopened his documentation centre, this time in Vienna. One of his most notable successes was trackingdown the former commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps.
He also found and secured a confession from the officer who had arrested Anne Frank.
And it was Wiesenthal who shed light on the Nazi past of Kurt Waldheim, the Austrian president who became the UN Secretary-General.
Wiesenthal never tired of saying that there is no greater sin than forgetting.The following words, delivered at the Holocaust memorial in Warsaw, perhaps best sum up his life:
“If we ignore the past, if we distort or deny what happened, then the past will return. Only by remembering can we and our children and their children build a just future; a future in which human life never loses its value.”