Right as I cracked open Tom Segev’s “Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends” (now out in paperback), I also received a letter from The Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Far from the original and singular quest of its namesake—hunting down Nazis—today the NGO has a broad mission of combating BDS, Iraninian incitement to Genocide as well as defending the Jewish state.
With such a far-reaching set of goals, it’s all the more reason for young readers today to get a better understanding of the man, who according to Segev, “was responsible of the capture of hundreds of Nazi war criminals.”
Of them, the one Nazi most often associated and linked with Wiesenthal is Eichmann. It’s here Segev is careful to parse fact from fiction. In Segev’s telling, he credits him with revealing Eichmann’s whereabouts. But it’s a careful revelation.
In fact, author and scholar Deborah Lipstadt in her book “The Eichmann Trial” states Wiesenthal actually “contributed relatively little the this capture.”
Segev explains that part of the issue was Israel needed to at first refrain from admitting that its agents abducted Eichmann, in order to placate Argentina, where he was captured. And, as long as Israel hid the true story, the media focused on Wiesenthal, who was always careful not to ascribe the actual abduction / operation to himself.
Segev writes with this kind of scrupulous, narrative detail throughout the book, about one of the 20th centuries most complex legacies examining Wiesenthal from every angle while also demystifying his legendary status.
Indeed as Segev points out, one reason Wiesenthal felt the need to bask in the media spotlight, was it helped serve his purposes. His fame led many survivors to turn to him and provide leads and reporting. Segev writes, “his address in Vienna became a beacon for Holocaust survivors.”
While the book often digs into granular detail, parts of it move with the thrill of a spy novel.
Abe Novick is a writer and communications consultant and can be reached at abebuzz.com