The life of the famed “Nazi hunter.”
Israeli journalist Segev (1967: Israel, the War, and the Year that Transformed the Middle East, 2007, etc.) labors mightily to separate the facts from the myths surrounding Simon Wiesenthal (1908–2005). The author examines Wiesenthal’s horrifying accounts of his experiences in Nazi death camps during World War II, and he knocks down accusations spread by Wiesenthal's detractors that the postwar crusader actually had collaborated with Nazis. Wiesenthal's renown during his long life and after his death is tied largely to the stories of how he tracked down Nazi murderers of Jews and other ethnic victims—with Adolf Eichmann's capture and punishment leading the list. The fame derives in large part from Wiesenthal's own books as well as movies about him starring actors Laurence Olivier and Ben Kingsley. Although largely a Wiesenthal admirer, Segev demonstrates his subject's exaggerations, lies and seemingly bottomless vanity. Wiesenthal operated mostly from Vienna, Austria, after World War II, but traveled the globe as an investigator, lobbyist and public speaker. The biography moves beyond detailed—and sometimes tedious—controversies enveloping Wiesenthal's words and actions to consider such vital questions as who should be considered a war criminal, and for what offenses? “The hunt for Nazi war criminals and their prosecution entailed many basic legal and ethical questions,” writes the author, “and demanded new definitions of crime, guilt, responsibility, punishment and justice.” After all, many of the Nazi death-camp commanders claimed they were just following orders, as do soldiers from every nation that wages war. Segev also wisely examines a larger context insisted upon by Wiesenthal—that the Nazis exterminated not just Jews, but other groups such as Gypsies. Many Jewish leaders and Zionists in general found Wiesenthal's thinking offensive, but Segev gives him his proper due.
An often repetitive but powerful biography.