LOS ANGELES — Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who helped track down Nazi war criminals following World War II and spent the later decades of his life fighting anti-Semitism and prejudice, has died aged 96.
A statement on the Simon Wiesenthal Center Web site said he died early Tuesday in Vienna, Austria.
With more than six million Jews killed during the Holocaust, including 89 members of his own family, Wiesenthal felt driven to track down those involved in the atrocities.
In his book “Justice, Not Vengeance,” Wiesenthal wrote: “Survival is a privilege which entails obligations. I am forever asking myself what I can do for those who have not survived.
“The answer I have found for myself (and which need not necessarily be the answer for every survivor) is: I want to be their mouthpiece, I want to keep their memory alive, to make sure the dead live on in that memory.”
Wiesenthal is credited with helping to bring more than 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice.
“Simon Wiesenthal was the conscience of the Holocaust,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“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.
“The task was overwhelming. The cause had few friends. The Allies were already focused on the Cold War, the survivors were rebuilding their shattered lives and Simon Wiesenthal was all alone, combining the role of both prosecutor and detective at the same time.
“His greatest accomplishment was that he showed the world what one person determined to do the right thing can accomplish,” Hier said.
Wiesenthal was held in a number of concentration camps during World War II, being freed by American forces from Mauthausen in Austria on May 5, 1945. At the time, he weighed less than 100 pounds, according to his biography.
He said he quickly realized “there is no freedom without justice,” and decided to dedicate “a few years” to seeking justice. “It became decades,” he added.