As soon as religions and legal codes appeared, defining what a person can and cannot do, they began to distinguish groups of acts that not only cannot be committed, but cannot be categorically – the most serious sins, for which they are punished more and more heavily.
A number of Christian teachings distinguish from all sins special, mortal sins – now they are most often considered to be pride, greed, anger, envy, lust, gluttony and laziness. They are fought with especially zealous, because they consider them the cause of all other immoral acts.
In medieval China, the “ten evils” were especially highlighted – rebellion, revolt, treason, disobedience, impiety, injustice, great neglect, great disrespect, incest. They could not be forgiven.
Arun was given by Gandhi (his grandfather) a list of the “Seven Blunders of the World” – wealth without labor, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principles. He added an eighth – rights without obligations.
And now the laws of many countries indicate especially grave crimes for which there is no statute of limitations. The UN Convention on the Inapplicability of the Statute of Limitation to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity of November 26, 1968 was adopted – they will always be prosecuted.
A significant role in the implementation of the decisions of this UN Convention was played by our fellow countryman, a native of the city of Buchach, Ternopil region, who gave birth to both the Nobel Prize in Literature Shmuel Agnon, and the singer’s grandfather Joe Dassin. I also want to tell about him.
Simon Wiesenthal was born on the last day of 1908 in that Buchach, which was an Austro-Hungarian city with a mixture of peoples usual for this “patchwork empire”. They lived together for a long time without a particularly touching love for each other, but also without bloody reprisals and pogroms.
His father and all his family, according to Wiesenthal, “adored the emperor and were ardent patriots of Austria and the Habsburgs”. Franz Joseph, who firmly declared: “I will not tolerate the persecution of Jews in my state,” thus earned the sympathy of his Jewish subjects.
The First World War complicated everything. Simon’s father went to the front and died there, and after the Brusilov breakthrough, his family moved first to Lviv and then to Vienna – they did not want to remain under the rule of the Russian Empire, where not long before that Jewish pogroms had taken place.
His native Buchach found himself in a period of instability. Wiesenthal liked to say that people went to bed, not knowing what country uniform would be on the police officers they would see in the morning. Nevertheless, he graduated from the gymnasium in Buchach, at the same time having studied the allotted time in the cheder.
Wiesenthal painted a lot and initially wanted to become an artist, but his mother persuaded him to try to become an architect – his late father was also in a similar business, selling building tiles. It remains to enter the appropriate university.
He did not enter the Lviv university closer to Buchach – the Polish higher school of those years was often accused of anti-Semitism. But he went to the University of Prague only on the second attempt – he said that for the same reason, but his close friend Cyla Müller entered immediately.
This Cyla Müller, a distant relative of Freud, who was left without a father early, became his wife in the future. “I was happy,” Wiesenthal recalled his student days. “I had a girlfriend who loved me, and I loved her very much too”.
After all, he had to finish his studies in Lviv – his stepfather refused to pay for the final part of his studies in Prague, and he coped with admission, having passed all the barriers, including additional ones. He married Cyla and began to work quite successfully in his specialty.
During his studies, he became a member of the Zionist student organization “Bar-Giora”, but did not aspire to emigration – firstly, because he did not want to leave his relatives, and secondly, because he hoped for the best. Life has shown him how badly he was wrong.
When Soviet troops entered Lviv, the Wiesenthals experienced certain troubles, but tolerable – at first they were going to forbid the “bourgeois” to live in Lviv, but then they changed their anger to mercy and even provided a decent job in their specialty. But his stepfather was arrested (not as a Jew, but as a “bourgeois”), and he died in a Soviet prison.
But things got much worse when the Nazis took Lviv. Wiesenthal saw the Lviv pogrom, in which several thousand people died, and miraculously survived. A German soldier broke into his apartment with a girl, whom he allowed to take whatever she wanted, while the Wiesenthals stood and watched.
Three days later, they were arrested and mobilized for forced labor, and in December they were transferred to a ghetto, where they had to live in overcrowded, muddy and uncomfortable conditions. And then began sending to death camps and executions – often on formal reasons, such as the lack of a seal on the certificate, the need for which had just been announced.
For a while, working conditions at Wiesenthal were tolerable thanks to the German inspector and workshop manager – they turned out to be decent people. It is possible that this is precisely why he came to the conclusion that there is no collective guilt and everyone should be judged by his deeds.
It was one of these Germans who warned him that it was time to flee (his wife had fled even earlier). For seven months their acquaintances were hiding them, but they were denounced, arrested, and wandering around the camps began, about which it is terrible to write – imagine something bad and keep in mind that it was even worse.
He managed to visit Plaszow, the commandant of which was shown in the “Schindler’s List” Amon Goeth, and in Gross-Rosen, where, as Wiesenthal later wrote, it was worst of all, and even in Mauthausen, from where the Americans released him practically half-dead, weighing 40 kilos.
Three weeks after his release, he submits to the American administration a list of one hundred and fifty names of SS men involved in war crimes. In a letter attached to the list, he already then offered the Americans his help in finding Nazi criminals.
He managed to find his wife who had fled from the Nazis, they were reunited, and they had a daughter. And in 1947, he and 30 like-minded people created the Documentation Center in the Austrian city of Linz – an organization that collected information about Nazi criminals.
At one time he was going to move to the United States, later he thought about moving to Israel – but remained in Austria. A little later, he wrote to one of his Israeli acquaintances: “The reason why I do not live in Israel is that there are no Nazis or anti-Semites there”.
Later, he moved the Center’s activities from Linz to Vienna, then transferred documents to Yad Vashem and opened a new Simon Wiesenthal Center. During the post-war years, he and his staff managed to identify about three thousand Nazi criminals, more than a thousand of them were punished.
While handing over the materials to Yad Vashem, Wiesenthal kept only one folder for himself – with materials on Adolf Eichmann, the head of the Gestapo department responsible for the “final solution of the Jewish question”. The creation of ghettos in the cities captured by the Nazis was precisely his idea.
Back in 1953, Wiesenthal, based on his materials, concluded that Eichmann was hiding in Argentina, and notified the Israeli special services. Studying the correspondence of his wife, who called herself a widow, with the Argentinean Ricardo Clement, in the end they were able to establish that this was Eichmann.
On May 11, 1960, Eichmann was seized in the street near his house. During interrogation, he quickly confessed, said he knew Hebrew, and quoted the beginning of Genesis and the Shema Yisrael prayer. He was drugged and in the uniform of a steward was taken by plane “El Al” to Jerusalem.
Eichmann was tried in Jerusalem, and he defended himself in a trite and boring way – he said that the order to destroy the Jews was not given in his department, that he had a Jewish friend and once even kissed a half-Jew. Of course, he was sentenced to death and hanged. Wiesenthal was against it – he believed that it was too lenient punishment and life imprisonment would be more correct.
There is debate about the role of Wiesenthal in the capture of Eichmann – this is a murky, semi-secret business and not without a struggle of ambitions. But Wiesenthal puts it succinctly: “I looked for him and was the first to find a trace in Argentina. But first of all, I prevented him from being considered dead and forgotten”.
Eichmann was not the only Nazi whom Wiesenthal helped to capture and punish. It is he who deserves the credit for the capture of Franz Stangl – a man who was the commandant of the terrible camps Sobibor and Treblinka. The number of Jews killed there is at least close to a million.
Surprisingly, Stangl, when he was an Austrian policeman, even received an award for opening a Nazi weapons depot. When the Nazis captured Austria, he got scared and arranged for a bribe to be included in the list of members of the Nazi party – for safety.
He continued to serve in the police force until 1940, when he was summoned to Berlin and offered to deal with the killing of the terminally ill and disabled. He tried to refuse. But they gently explained to him that the very invitation to this job was a sign of trust in him, and he agreed.
Soon he was transferred to lead the Sobibor camp, meeting there near a moat filled with corpses. And it was easy for him to move from there to the commandant of Treblinka. There, according to him, he fought against corruption – he interfered with the appropriation of money and valuables sent to the gas chamber.
Stangl’s address was named to Wiesenthal by his former colleague – he demanded $ 25,000, but after bargaining he agreed to $ 7,000: a cent for each Jew he killed. After receiving the money, he said that Stangl worked as a mechanic at the Volkswagen plant in the Brazilian city of São Paulo.
Wiesenthal had to work hard to get Brazil to arrest him and extradite him to the BRD. The death penalty had already been abolished there by this time, but Stangl was sentenced to life imprisonment, and he died in prison.
DO NOT LIKE EVERYONE
More than a thousand war criminals were detained with the help of the Wiesenthal Center. Among them, in particular, the chief of the Lyon Gestapo Klaus Barbie, nicknamed the “Butcher of Lyon”. He was extradited by Bolivia to France, sentenced to life in prison and died in prison.
He also exposed Hermine Braunsteiner, the warden of Majdanek, nicknamed by the prisoners “the trampling mare” – she kicked women and threw children into the oven, grabbing them by the hair. She became the first Nazi extradited from the United States to the Federal Republic of Germany, and she also was in prison for life.
But not everyone liked his work. For example, after the Six Day War, the Soviet authorities confiscated all his books that entered the country, and his employees were denied a visa to travel to Ukraine. The Arab countries loved him no more – there were also many Nazis hiding there.
The chancellor of Austria, the country of his residence, Bruno Kreisky – interestingly, an ethnic Jew, also hated him. In the cabinet he formed, five people had a Nazi past, and Wiesenthal immediately reported this information0 to the press. Kreisky replied that they had already changed.
But in the next elections, the position of Kreisky’s party was shaken, and he entered into an alliance with the leader of the Freedom Party, Peter. And Wiesenthal told everyone that he served in the SS. Kreisky was so enraged that he accused Wiesenthal of working for the Gestapo – of course, unsubstantiated.
Wiesenthal sarcastically replied: “The only one who does not know that Kreisky is a Jew is Kreisky himself,” and sued him. He was forced to drop the charges, and when he tried to do it again, Wiesenthal again went to court, and Kreisky was fined 270,000 shillings.
MEANING OF LIFE
Simon Wiesenthal rejected the principle of collective responsibility, stating that everyone should be held accountable only for the crime that he personally committed or forced others to commit. So not only the fascists were at enmity with him, but also the supporters of the collective guilt of the people.
In his autobiographical book Justice, Not Vengeance, published in 1989, Wiesenthal writes: “I have always asked myself what I could do for those who did not survive. The answer that I found for myself (and which by no means must be the answer for every survivor) is: I want to be their mouthpiece, I want to keep their memory alive, so that the dead can live on in this memory”.
An old friend of Wiesenthal once asked him why he had chosen such a strange profession of a hunter for the unfinished Nazis. Wiesenthal replied: “Someday the Lord will call us to him, and the Jews who are already in heaven will ask about my deals on earth? One will say that he built houses, the other taught children … And I will tell Him: I have always remembered about you”.
In 2003, he practically ceased his activities. “I survived them all. Most of those I am looking for are already dead or so old that they cannot get out of bed,” he said. “I have fulfilled my mission”. He died two years later at the age of 96. He did the best he could.
Wiesenthal is no longer there, but his centers are working, and there is someone to continue his work. In addition to the already mentioned UN convention, there is a separate European convention on the inapplicability of statutes of limitations to crimes against humanity and war crimes, adopted in 1974.
Wiesenthal is criticized, and this criticism is sometimes justified – not all of his numerous interviews and books agree with the facts and with each other. But in secret activity it does not happen otherwise. In addition, his most violent critics generally deny the Holocaust and Hitler’s crimes – how to believe them and why listen to them?
He was awarded the title of Commander of the Order of Wilhelm – the highest award of the Netherlands, Commander of the Order of the Italian Republic, the Gold Medal of the US Congress, the Gold Medal of Jerusalem, the Order of the Legion of Honor, and became an Honorary Chevalier of the Order of the British Empire.
Has the country where he was born awarded him? No, of course not – many are unhappy with his criticism for forgiving and even exalting the accomplices of Nazism. But it is useless to argue with him – he died, and now this is not his problem. This is our problem, and we will have to solve it.