One of the great voices of conscience of the last century has fallen silent. Simon Wiesenthal, a survivor of five Nazi death camps who spent the better part of the past six decades tracking down Nazi war criminals and speaking out for tolerance, died in his sleep early this morning at his home in Vienna. He was 96.
When the Holocaust ended in 1945 and the whole world went home to forget, he alone remained behind to remember. He did not forget. He became the permanent representative of the victims, determined to bring the perpetrators of the history’s greatest crime to justice. There was no press conference and no president or Prime Minister or world leader announced his appointment. He just took the job. It was a job no one else wanted.
Having lost 89 relatives in the Holocaust, Wiesenthal brought over 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice and devoted his life to fighting prejudice and promoting tolerance. He understood that “there is no freedom without justice.”
Born in Bucacz in what is now Ukraine, Wiesenthal, trained as an architect, was forced to work in a bedspring factory after the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939. The Nazis arrested him when they took over his town in 1941. While imprisoned in one camp, Wiesenthal was taken to the besdside of a dying Nazi soldier who had asked him, as a Jew, for forgiveness for participating in the murder of two hundred Jews in a town in Ukraine. After the war, Wiesenthal posed this soldier’s question to a number of leading theologians, writers and other prominent individuals: how would they repond to this request? Could they forgive him? He published their replies in his book, The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. (I highly, **highly** recommend this book.)
You can read more about this great man here. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, “an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement, educational outreach and social action,” was founded in 1977 and inspired The Museum of Tolerance in 1993. In memory of Simon Wiesenthal, please join me in supporting these institutions.
George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Wiesenthal well understood the wisdom of those words and devoted his life to the pursuit of justice, the promotion of tolerance, teaching us all the lesson of the Holocaust so that mankind would not repeat the horrors of the Nazi era. As a tribute to this great man, remembering the past, let us strive to understand our neighbors and learn to tolerate difference in our fellow man.
-Dan (AKA GayPatriotWest): GayPatriotWest@aol.com