Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who helped track down Nazi war criminals following World War II and whose activities were fictionalized in the novel and movie The Boys from Brazil, died in his sleep Tuesday at his home in Vienna. He was 96.
Wiesenthal had spent the later decades of his life fighting anti-Semitism and prejudice against all people, and in his career had helped find onetime SS leader Adolf Eichmann and the policeman who arrested Anne Frank.
“I think he’ll be remembered as the conscience of the Holocaust. In a way he became the permanent representative of the victims of the Holocaust, determined to bring the perpetrators of the greatest crime to justice,” Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, tells the Associated Press.
A survivor of five Nazi death camps, Wiesenthal changed his life’s mission after the war, dedicating himself to tracking down Nazi war criminals and to being a voice for the 6 million Jews who died during the onslaught. He himself lost 89 relatives in the Holocaust.
Wiesenthal – who dismissed The Boys from Brazil, starring Laurence Olivier, for trying to make him look like James Bond – spent more than 50 years hunting Nazi war criminals, speaking out against neo-Nazism and racism, and remembering the Jewish experience as a lesson for humanity. Through his work, he said, some 1,100 Nazi war criminals were brought to justice.
“When history looks back I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it,” he once said.