Simon Wiesenthal's major impact in Israel was convincing the government to pursue and bring to justice Nazi war criminals, said a former Mossad agent who commanded the capture of Nazi SS officer Adolf Eichmann.
In Israel's early years, hunting Nazis was not a high priority, as the Jewish state was burdened with more pressing issues such as survival, immigrant absorption and hostile Arab neighbors. But by the late 1950s this changed, and the young country began to go after Nazis.
"Simon Wiesenthal was one of the outstanding elements which influenced the government of Israel in the 1950s to find the Nazi commanders who had a role in the Holocaust and bring them to trial in Israel," said Rafael Eitan, a former Mossad agent.
"Wiesenthal was among those who increased the awareness in Israel by his repeated demands on the government that the pursuit of Nazis was one of its national missions," Eitan told The Jerusalem Post.
Eitan said that Wiesenthal did not actually lead the Mossad to Eichmann. Israel located him through its own agents and security services, helped by German officials.
"That is the historical truth. But to his credit, he brought us a lot of information of where Eichmann didn't exist and that was very important," Eitan said.
"Simon Wiesenthal was an institution. He had a part in bringing Nazi suspects to trial and there was no reason that we, the members of the Mossad, would not cooperate with him, or that he not cooperate with us. We related to him as a partner in our mission for years," said Eitan, one of the few surviving members of the Mossad team that nabbed Eichmann in 1960 on the streets of Buenos Aires.
Eitan said the Mossad helped Wiesenthal to find contributors so he could continue his work.
While Eichmann proved to be one of the very few Nazis brought to trial in Israel, Eitan said that Wiesenthal was instrumental in bringing lesser-known Nazi war criminals to justice abroad.
"I felt that history was making justice with the Jewish nation for being capable of bringing one of the Nazi criminals to trial in Israel. And it seems to me that Wiesenthal felt the same way his whole life. I also don't deny there was an element of vengeance in this, too," Eitan said.
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