Wiesenthal, Simon (1908–2005)

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War crimes investigator.

Simon Wiesenthal was born in Buczacz, near Lviv in Poland (now Ukraine). Although trained in Prague as an architectural engineer, Wiesenthal was forced to work in a factory after Poland was divided between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939.

Following the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Wiesenthal was arrested and sent to the Janowska camp near Lviv, where he was a slave laborer. He managed to escape in October 1943 but was recaptured and returned there the following June. As the eastern front collapsed in 1944, survivors from Janowska were marched westward. Wiesenthal passed through the camps of Plaszów, Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, and Mauthausen where, on 5 May 1945, he was liberated by the U.S. Army.

After the war, Wiesenthal joined the War Crimes section of the U.S. Army in Austria, collecting evidence for war crimes prosecutions. In 1947 he established the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Linz, Austria, where he and his colleagues compiled material for use in future trials. The onset of the Cold War made prosecuting Nazi criminals politically unattractive to Western powers (who were now allied with West Germany) and the center was closed in 1954, but Wiesenthal continued to amass information on Adolf Eichmann, which assisted the Israeli authorities in his capture in Brazil in 1960.

In 1961, following the trial of Eichmann in Israel, Wiesenthal reopened his center in Vienna and pursued both high-profile and obscure Nazi criminals. Chief among them were Franz Stangl, commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps; his deputy Gustav Wagner; Franz Mürer, commandant of the Vilna ghetto in Lithuania; and Karl Silberbauer, the policeman who arrested Anne Frank. In total, Wiesenthal helped bring approximately eleven hundred war criminals to justice.

Wiesenthal published his memoirs in 1967. In 1977 the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Los Angeles was named in his honor.

See alsoEichmann, Adolf; Holocaust.


Primary Sources

Wiesenthal, Simon. The Murderers among Us. New York, 1967.

Secondary Sources

Pick, Hella. Simon Wiesenthal: A Life in Search of Justice. London, 1996.

Ben Barkow