ZUROFF, EFRAIM (1948– ), spiritual heir of Simon Wiesenthal, the last of the Nazi hunters; director, *Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel Office and coordinator of Nazi War Crimes Research for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Born in New York City, educated at Brooklyn Talmudical Academy where his father was principal, he completed an undergraduate degree in history (with honors) at Yeshiva University, where his grandfather was dean, and went on aliyah in 1970. He obtained a M.A. degree in Holocaust Studies at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry of the Hebrew University, where he also completed his Ph.D., which chronicles the response of Orthodox Jewry in the United States to the Holocaust and focuses on the rescue attempts launched by the Va'ad ha-Hatzalah rescue committee.
In 1978 he was the first director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, where he played a leading role in establishing the Center's library and archives and was historical advisor for the Academy award-winning documentary Genocide. In 1980 he returned to Israel, where he served as a researcher for the U.S. Justice Department's *Office of Special Investigations. His efforts assisted in the preparation of cases against numerous Nazi war criminals living in the United States.
His work has less of the drama usually associated with the capture of war criminals. Rather it involves a painstaking review of documents with the goal of not only understanding how the deed was done, but by whom, identifying the perpetrator and then engaging foreign leaders and governments with sufficient pressure to have them try Nazi war criminals.
In 1986 his research uncovered the postwar escape of hundreds of Nazi war criminals to Australia, Canada, Great Britain, and other countries, and he rejoined the Wiesenthal Center to coordinate its international efforts to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice. These efforts have influenced the passage of special laws in Canada (1987), Australia (1989), and Great Britain (1991) which enable the prosecution in those countries of Nazi war criminals.
Since the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the fall of Communism, Zuroff has played a major role in the efforts to convince Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia and other post-Communist societies to confront the widespread complicity of their nationals in the crimes of the Holocaust and to prosecute local Nazi collaborators. His public advocacy on these issues has been instrumental in the submission by Lithuania and Latvia of indictments (Lileikis, Gimzauskas) and/or extradition requests (Kalejs, Gecas) against local Holocaust perpetrators. In 1991 he exposed the rehabilitation of Nazi war criminals in Lithuania and led the campaign to stop this process. Zuroff was appointed by the then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to serve on the joint Israeli-Lithuanian commission of inquiry established to deal with this issue, which led to the cancelation to date of over 150 rehabilitations granted to individuals who had participated in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. In 2000 he exposed the rehabilitations granted by the Latvian government to Nazi war criminals; he led the efforts to cancel these pardons, two of which have been rescinded.
In the summer of 2002, together with Aryeh Rubin, founder of the Targum Shlishi Foundation, he launched "Operation: Last Chance," which offers financial rewards for information which will facilitate the conviction and punishment of Nazi war criminals. So far, the project has been initiated in nine countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, and Germany) and has yielded the names of over 400 suspects, 85 of which have been submitted to local prosecutors.
At the turn of the 21st century Zuroff directed a research project to identify Nazi war criminals who are receiving special disability pensions from the German government, which passed special legislation to enable their cancelation in 1998. To date, the pensions of 105 individuals who "violated the norms of humanity" have been canceled, several hundred additional cases are currently under active investigation and thousands of other cases are awaiting review by the German Ministry of Social Services.
Zuroff played an important role in the exposure, arrest, extradition, and prosecution of Dinko Sakic, the former commandant of the Croatian concentration camp Jasenovac (nicknamed the "Auschwitz of the Balkans"). In early October 1999, Sakic, who lived for more than 50 years in Argentina, was sentenced in Zagreb to 20 years' imprisonment for his crimes in the first-ever trial of a Nazi war criminal in a post-Communist country.
He has written two books, Occupation: Nazi-Hunter; The Continuing Search for the Perpetrators of the Holocaust (1994), which chronicles the belated efforts to prosecute Nazi war criminals in western democracies and explains the rationale for such efforts several decades after the crimes. Also, in 2000 he published a study of the history of the Va'ad ha-Hatzalah, which was awarded an Egit Grant for Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Literature by the Israeli General Federation of Labor (Histadrut) and also received the 1999–2000 Samuel Belkin Literary Award for the best book published by a Yeshiva University alumnus in the field of Jewish studies.
His activities as a Nazi-hunter were the subject of three television documentaries. The first, entitled "The Nazi-Hunter," was produced by zdf (German Channel 2) in 1999; the second, entitled "The Last Nazi-Hunter," was produced by swr (German Channel 1 – regional station) in 2004 and the third "The Final Hunt for the Nazis" by France Trois (Channel 3) was broadcast in December 2005.
Zuroff would rather be right than popular. His history of the Va'ad is less a work of the hagiography popular in Orthodox circles today than a serious work of history, which examines not uncritically the work of the Orthodox and demonstrates their unique efforts as well as their dependence on the larger Jewish community for funding and effectiveness. He examines the tendency of Orthodox Judaism to go it alone. He has also been critical of the Israeli government for its lack of interest in pursuing Nazi war criminals.
In 1995 and 1996, Zuroff was invited to Rwanda to assist the local authorities in their efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of the genocide which took place in that country in spring 1994, and he has served as an official advisor to the Rwandan government. He began his speech in the native language. An activist by temperament as well as by conviction, when he confronts evil, he seeks to undo it rather than understand it.
Since 2001, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's "Annual Status Report on the Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals," which he writes, is considered the authoritative source on the subject.
[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]