Mourning Simon Wiesenthal

Austrian Press Agency (APA) (09/20/05)

Ninety-six year-old Nazi hunter died in Vienna

Vienna Mourning Simon Wiesenthal: The Nazi hunter died early in the morning on Tuesday from multiple organ failure in his Viennese apartment at the age of ninety-six. An official farewell will take place tomorrow at Vienna’s Zentralfriedhof and then the body will be transferred to Israel where the funeral will take place on Friday. Wiesenthal, marked by illness over the last few years, lived a secluded life in his apartment. The news of his death sparked sadness and cut across all camps at home and abroad.

Wiesenthal helped bring more than 1,100 presumably Nazi criminals to justice. They were not all convicted. His greatest find was that of Adolf Eichmann who organized the Endlösung (the final solution) or massive death of the Jewish people. Eichmann was tracked down in Argentina in 1961 and then received the death penalty in Israel. Apart from Eichmann, the most spectacular cases involved Karl Silberbauer, discovered in Vienna in 1963, who had arrested the fourteen-year-old Anne Frank in Amsterdam; Franz Stangl, found in Vienna in 1967, commandant of the concentration camp in Treblinka; and Josef Schwammberger, arrested in South America in 1987, who was the former commandant of the Przemysl Ghetto.

In each case the motto, justice, not revenge, was the focus of Wiesenthal’s search and eventually became the title of his memoirs published in 1988. Probably his most important legacy was the establishment of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in 1977 in Los Angeles with numerous satellites in various cities. These centers have not only focused on the pursuit of Nazi war criminals but also have served as a reminder of the Holocaust and the fight against problems in society such as racism, anti-Semitism and terrorism.

The head of the Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem, Ephraim Zuroff, who took over Wiesenthal’s work, announced: We will remain true to his spiritual testament and continue the fight with the same decisiveness, Also Wiesenthal’s extensive archive on the Holocaust - the names of the perpetrators and victims which he kept in his files in his Viennese residence - should continue to be used. Various organizations want to establish a ‘Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies’ with access to his collection.

Federal President Heinz Fischer praised Wiesenthal as a part of our modern day history. Atoning for crimes as a contribution to never repeat them has been an important motive behind his work. Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel characterized him as an indefatigable fighter for remembrance. Vice Chancellor Hubert Gorbach praised his noble sense of justice. President of the National Council Andreas Khol expressed that with Wiesenthal’s death an important voice of remembrance and humanity has been stifled.

Head of the Austrian Socialist Party Alfred Gusenbauer said that Wiesenthal stands like no other for the most important victory over the Nazi past. Federal Spokesman of the Green Party Alexander Van der Bellen honored Wiesenthal as a great Austrian and as an immeasurable figure of remembrance. The conscience of the Holocaust was the reference made to him by the Austrian Trade Union’s (ÖGB) President Fritz Verzetnitsch.

The only critical reaction came from the head of the Austrian Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, who pointed out that there has always been criticism directed toward Wiesenthal’s work. Governor of Kärnten and head of Austria’s Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) Jörg Haider refrained from giving any official statement.

Vienna’s Archbishop Cardinal Christoph Schönborn said that the efforts made toward getting at the truth and coming to terms with the horror of the past belong undoubtedly to the immense service for which he was not always found to be pleasant. President of the Israelite Religious Community (IKG), Ariel Muzicant, said that truth, justice and reconciliation were the core pillars of his work. He was the symbol of an entire generation which experienced and suffered from the Shoah and, nonetheless, tried to live a normal life, said Muzicant.