Justice Not Vengeance

As a Holocaust survivor, Wiesenthal has dedicated his life to bearing witness for those who perished at Auschwitz and Babi-Yar, Sobibor and Treblinka; Clyde Farnsworth of THE NEW YORK TIMES has called him “The Sleuth with Six Million Clients.” Farnsworth’s figure underestimates Wiesenthal’s constituency, for the world’s best-known Nazi hunter has sought justice for all who suffered under the Nazis--Poles and Gypsies as well as Jews. Nor has he ignored other violations of human rights, as his chapters on Raoul Wallenberg and Andrei Sakharov demonstrate.

Because Wiesenthal primarily collects and disseminates information, many of his accounts lack great excitement. Some episodes, however, fascinate. For example, he tells of using Frederick Forsyth’s THE ODESSA FILE to suggest that Edward Roschmann, responsible for the deaths of more than 35,000 Jews, had shot a German officer to secure his own escape. Those who had been harboring Roschmann then turned on him and forced him out of hiding.

That story, like so many others in the book, is as troubling as it is dramatic. How could anyone behave as Roschmann had? How could anyone else associate with, let alone protect, such a person? Perhaps one is not surprised to learn that Syria has given asylum to Alois Brunner, Adolf Eichmann’s chief assistant, and that South American dictatorships provide safe haves for torturers such as Josef Mengele. How, though, does one explain the large numbers of known murderers holding respectable, even influential positions in Germany and Austria or enjoying the protection of Canadian and American law?

In large part the answer lies in the enduring racism, especially anti-Semitism, throughout the world. Therefore, even after the death of the last person who served Hitler’s diabolical vision, Wiesenthal and his successors will still have work to do: to remind the world of past horrors in the hope that they will not recur.