Accessibility links

Wiesenthal Center Continues Legacy of Late Nazi-Hunter

Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal died this week in Vienna at the age of 96, and was buried in Israel Friday. Half a world away, an institute and museum founded in his honor continue his legacy.

Simon Wiesenthal has been credited with tracking down 1,100 war criminals. The precise number has been disputed, but in his six-decade search for Nazi war criminals, Mr. Wiesenthal kept alive the memory of the many millions who died in wartime death camps. He also reminded a post-war world focused on other problems that many Nazi killers were still at large.

Liebe Geft, the director of the Museum of Tolerance, the educational arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, spoke with VOA about Mr. Wiesenthal's legacy.

"It is a legacy of remembrance," she said. "Every day is Remembrance Day, Mr. Wiesenthal said. And we don't only mean remembering the past and the atrocities of history."

She says Mr. Wiesenthal reminded us that each of us shapes the world through our moral choices.

Simon Wiesenthal was a Holocaust survivor who devoted himself to tracking down those responsible, and to ensuring that the atrocities not be forgotten. In 1977, Rabbi Marvin Hier founded the Wiesenthal Center with the nazi hunter's blessing. He told reporters this week that Mr. Wiesenthal was motivated by a sense of justice, not a desire for vengeance.

"He would often say, he did it to protect his grandchildren and great-grandchildren so that the would-be murderers of tomorrow would know that somebody is going to stand up and not allow the perpetrators of such an evil to get away with it," explained Rabbi Hier.

Museum director Liebe Geft says the Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance tell the story of the Holocaust, while exposing other forms of intolerance that, in the worst historical cases, can lead to genocide. She says exhibitions have highlighted recent atrocities, including in the Darfur region of Sudan.

"We've had photographic exhibits from Rwanda. We've had exhibits from the victims of the war in the former Yugoslavia, [and] now the contemporary exhibit on Darfur," added Ms. Geft.

The center has also hosted forums on the human rights abuses in North Korea and on international terrorism.

Mr. Wiesenthal angered some in the Jewish community by saying the Holocaust claimed the lives of many victims beyond the six million Jews who died in the Nazi death camps. Other victims included trade unionists, Gypsies, homosexuals and communists, but Mr. Wiensethal's critics argue that only the Jews were targeted for mass extermination. Ms. Geft says the Holocaust shows what can happen when the world permits discrimination against anyone. She adds that for the Nazi hunter, history teaches lessons.

"It was extremely important to Mr. Wiesenthal that we don't just become the guardians of the past, but very much the custodians of a moral, hopeful, sensitive and tolerant future," she said.

As part of its ongoing mission, the Wiesenthal Center monitors hate groups and issues an annual report on the growth of Neo-Nazi and racist organizations that maintain a presence on the Internet.

Ms. Geft said Simon Wiesenthal was a realist who understood human nature and the depths to which human beings can sink. She says he also understood that people make ethical choices and that with encouragement, they can make the right ones.