Nazi Hunter Continues Crusade at 94
VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ At 94, Simon Wiesenthal has to be chauffeured to his office by his secretaries, skips public appearances and cannot get out of his chair without bracing himself against the wall.
But the legendary Nazi hunter perseveres in his unending mission: to keep the Holocaust from being forgotten.
He shows up regularly at his small Documentation Center in downtown Vienna, where he works on the archives that bear witness to his decades of work bringing some 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice.
``When history looks back,″ he once said, ``I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.″
Wiesenthal, who lost 89 relatives in the Holocaust and barely survived the Nazi death camps himself, spent more than 50 years hunting war criminals. In all, he has files on some 3,000 criminals.
He has also spoken out tirelessly against neo-Nazism and racism, warning the world to never forget how Adolf Hitler and his henchmen killed 9 million people, including 6 million Jews.
He is perhaps best known for his role in tracking down Adolf Eichmann, the Gestapo officer who organized the extermination of the Jews. Eichmann was found in Argentina, abducted by Israeli agents in 1960, tried and hanged for crimes committed against the Jews.
Now in the twilight of his life, Wiesenthal has not tracked down a war criminal in years, and his staff will not let journalists interview him.
But aides say he still spends every weekday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in his office, and then carries work home to do in the afternoon, according to Alan Levy, author of ``Nazi Hunter: The Wiesenthal File.″ Levy said a letter he recently received from one of Wiesenthal’s secretaries included the reference to his daily itinerary.
At work, Wiesenthal reads and writes letters, sometimes lobbying for projects he supports, said Bengt Pflughaupt, a German freelance journalist who conducted extensive interviews with Wiesenthal in 2001 and 2002 for a book he plans.
Wiesenthal, for example, recently threw his weight behind a Holocaust education project in Austria’s schools with a letter to film director Steven Spielberg, encouraging him to attend the project’s closing ceremony commemorating victims of the Holocaust, or Shoah in Hebrew.
``I have always been convinced that the full meaning of the Shoah can best be conveyed to postwar generations not through impersonal numbers and dates but by encouraging personal identification with events and individual victims,″ Wiesenthal wrote in the letter dated March 24.
``That was my motivation in writing most of my books ... and that is also why I considered your wonderful film, `Schindler’s List,′ so valuable.″
Spielberg declined the invitation, citing security concerns. Wiesenthal also was absent _ too exhausted to appear at the event, which drew thousands May 5, said organizer Andreas Kuba.
Though feeble and hard of hearing, Wiesenthal has lost neither his piercing intellect nor his commitment to keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust, say those close to him.
Recalling their last meeting, Pflughaupt said: ``A childlike curiosity still burned from his eyes. He still seemed brilliant, interested in educating young people about what happened.″
``You can tell he struggles against hating, but he doesn’t always succeed,″ Pflughaupt added.
Wiesenthal’s staff turned down a recent request for an interview by The Associated Press.
``Mr. Wiesenthal is no longer physically or mentally able to give any statements. But his life work stands for what he believes,″ said a staff member who declined to be identified.
An Austrian weekly magazine, Format, quoted Wiesenthal last month as saying he had found all the mass murderers he had searched for and therefore his work was finished.
Wiesenthal’s office denied he ever gave an interview to the magazine _ and said the purported statement did not reflect Wiesenthal’s thinking.
In fact, Wiesenthal failed to bring several prime targets to justice. Among those are Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous ``Death Angel″ of the Auschwitz extermination camp who died in Brazil in 1979, and Alois Brunner, Eichmann’s right-hand man who is believed to have found refuge in Syria.
Last year, Wiesenthal told Pflughaupt he would never quit.
``I have never announced my retirement. I’ve only said that I survived most of the Nazis,″ he said, according to a transcript of the interview made available to AP.
``What the courts didn’t achieve with my help _ or didn’t want to achieve _ has since been settled by time,″ he added. ``But quit? That’s not quite right. You can’t champion a cause for more than half a century and then simply say, ’Now I’m giving up.‴
While Wiesenthal may have brought his own cases to a close, there are ``hundreds, if not thousands″ of Nazi war criminals still at large, said Efraim Zuroff, director of the Jerusalem office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Zuroff, a key figure in carrying on Wiesenthal’s search for Nazi criminals, said most of those being sought were responsible for killing Jews in eastern Europe _ people nearly impossible to locate during the Cold War, when Wiesenthal was still actively pursuing suspects.
``These people are being brought to trial by people following in his path and who were inspired by Mr. Wiesenthal,″ Zuroff said.
Pflughaupt said he asked Wiesenthal whether he expected to meet any repentant Nazis in heaven.
``I believe so firmly in our almighty God that he would not permit me to meet any Nazis in heaven,″ Wiesenthal replied. ``No, he would never do that to me.″