Fri, Sep 23, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Nazi hunter laid to rest


Over a coffin dressed in black crepe, Austria bid a somber farewell on Wednesday to Simon Wiesenthal, the Nazi hunter whose life-long investigations made him known around the world but a controversial figure at home.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel joined a memorial service in the capital with Wiesenthal's daughter Pauline Kreisberg.

"Wiesenthal was not a powerful man, yet he took on the mantle in order to make the world a more just place," the chancellor said in a brief address at Vienna's central cemetery.

The ceremony, attended by 300 people, including the ambassadors of Israel, Britain and the US, took place in a small synagogue that had been destroyed by Nazi sympathizers in 1938 and rebuilt in the 1960s.

The grand rabbi of Vienna, Paul Chaim Eisenberg, also gave a brief address before a cantor said the kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.

Dan Ashbel, the Israeli ambassador, said Wiesenthal "bequeathed us the task of reminding the world about the Shoah and warning against extermination."

Wiesenthal, who died on Tuesday aged 96, will be buried today in Israel where his daughter now lives.

While tributes continued to pour in from world leaders, the leading Kronen Zeitung daily, read by one Austrian in two, did not report his death on its front page, preferring instead stories about fuel prices and the Harry Potter novels.

One historian, who did not want to be identified, said Wiesenthal "was not loved by the people whom he reminded, without pulling any punches, that many of the butchers were Austrians."

It contrasted with Germany, where the popular Bild newspaper called him "A hunter, a survivor, a bringer of justice, a witness of the century," while the Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung said he had "a moral fiber and a pen dipped in steel."

During his lifetime he tracked down 1,100 Nazis, including Adolf Eichmann, an architect of Austrian-born Adolf Hitler's "final solution" to exterminate all Jews.

A survivor of the Nazi death camps, where he lost scores of relatives, Wiesenthal led a tenacious campaign to bring the killers to justice and ensure the 6 million Jews who died would never be forgotten.

Unlike Germany, which underwent a painful examination of conscience after its defeat in 1945, Austria took decades to acknowledge a role in war crimes, saying it had been the first victim of the Nazis.

It was only in 1991 that chancellor Franz Vranitzky admitted Austrians had included the guilty as well as victims, but it was several more years before Austria began paying compensation to Jewish families who were robbed of their belongings after Nazi Germany annexed the country in 1938.

Wiesenthal's most memorable clash with Austrian officialdom came in 1975, when chancellor Bruno Kreisky, himself a Jew, accused Wiesenthal of being part of "a certain mafia" seeking to besmirch the country's reputation.

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