Holocaust Survivor Simon Wiesenthal dedicated his life to documenting the crimes of the Holocaust and to ensuring that the perpetrators of those crimes were brought to justice. “When history looks back,” Wiesenthal explained, “I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.” Wiesenthal’s goals were twofold: to educate future generations about the horrors that can arise from unchecked prejudice and intolerance, and to promote the vital importance of justice though accountability.
Simon Wiesenthal was born on December 31, 1908 in Poland. He married Cyla Mueller in 1938 and workedin an architectural office until war broke out in September 1939. Despite their efforts to hide from the Nazis, Wiesenthal and Mueller were eventually found and arrested. Wiesenthal spent the duration of the Second World War being transported from one concentration camp to another, witnessing horrendous atrocities that were beyond comprehension.
Liberation for Wiesenthal came on May 5, 1945 when Mauthausen concentration camp was liberated by the Soviet army. As soon as his health was sufficiently restored, he started the search for family members.Wiesenthal was reunited with his wife; however, together they lost 89 members of their family at the hands of the Nazis..
Like other survivors, Simon’s experiences during the Holocaust changed his life irrevocably. However for the vast majority of survivors, post-war life was not focused on Holocaust remembrance but rather about picking up the pieces and starting life anew, usually outside of Europe in communities scattered around the world.
Simon’s post-war journey took a very different trajectory. From liberation until his death, Simon pursued justice for victims of the Holocaust through his work as a “Nazi Hunter” and worked tirelessly to promote Holocaust Education and human rights for all. This work began immediately once he had been freed from Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in May of 1945 when he handed a list of Nazi criminals to American intelligence organizations. He subsequently helped gather evidence for the first war crimes trials held at Dachau and Nuremberg. In 1947, he co-founded the Jewish Historical Documentation Centre (JHDC) and set up shop in Linz, Austria, coincidentally the same city where Adolf Hitler spent his childhood. From the JHDC he worked to gather information for future war crime trials and aided refugees in their search for lost relatives.
He and his family moved to Vienna in 1960 and opened the Documentation Centre of the Association of Jewish Victims of the Nazi Regime in Vienna in 1961. From Vienna he continued to try to locate missing Nazi war criminals, working primarily by himself using historical documents, old address books, and telephone directories.
In an effort to keep his ideals of justice, tolerance and the preservation of human rights alive,the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies was founded in November 1977.Today, the Simon Wiesenthal Center is an international center for Holocaust remembrance and the defense of human rights worldwide.
Wiesenthal was the recipient of many honours from governments and associations around the world.On September 20, 2005, at the age of 97, Simon Wiesenthal died peacefully in his sleep at home.