About Simon Wiesenthal
Simon Wiesenthal (1908–2005)
by Thomas Stern and Nadja Etinski
Simon Wiesenthal fought tirelessly to bring an end to the widespread indifference towards the crimes of National Socialism. After his liberation from Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945, he made it his life's work to track down Nazi criminals and bring them to justice. For a long time, however, his activities as a documentarian and critical voice were barely recognised in post-war Austria. On the contrary, he was subject to considerable hostility throughout his life. It was not until late in life that his lifetime achievements were honoured both in Austria and internationally.
Wiesenthal was born in 1908 in Galicia, which at the time belonged to the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. After graduating from high school, he decided to study architecture. Due to antisemitic admission restrictions in place at the time, he had to move to Prague to attend university. In 1932, he completed his architecture studies at Prague Technical University. In 1936, he married his childhood sweetheart Cyla Müller and opened an architectural firm in Lviv. However, when the city fell under Soviet rule in 1939, Wiesenthal had to cease his professional activities. When Nazi troops marched into the Soviet-occupied territories of Poland in 1941, he hid in the cellar of his house but was soon discovered and taken to Brygidki Prison. After narrowly escaping execution by shooting there, he and his family were moved to the Lviv ghetto. From there, the SS deported him to Janowska concentration camp, from which he managed to escape. However, just a short time later, he was imprisoned again. Until his liberation on 5 May 1945, he was moved to and survived a number of labour and concentration camps, including Plaszów labour camp and Auschwitz, Groß-Rosen, Buchenwald and Mauthausen concentration camps. Wiesenthal's wife Cyla had survived under a false identity and had been performing forced labour in Germany. The two were reunited in Linz. Their daughter Pauline was born in 1946. However, the Wiesenthal family lost several dozen family members under the Nazi regime. Their daughter Pauline and their grandchildren grew up in the awareness that "no one had survived" and that they "had no family".
Following liberation from Mauthausen concentration camp
Immediately after his liberation in 1945, Simon Wiesenthal dedicated himself to his life's work of tracking down Nazi criminals and bringing them to justice. In this spirit, he established a committee of survivors of Mauthausen concentration camp in September 1946 and a year later founded the “Zentrum für jüdische historische Dokumentation” (Jewish Historical Documentation Center). Over the years, however, Wiesenthal's work became increasingly difficult as interest in the persecution of Nazi perpetrators waned. In 1961, he moved to Vienna and founded the documentation centre of the "Bund Jüdischer Verfolgter des Naziregimes" (Association of Jews Persecuted by the Nazi Regime). He again dedicated himself fully to the search for Nazi criminals. However, not all of the cases of Nazi crimes brought to light by Wiesenthal eventually led to convictions.
"Look, I am aware that what I have done for five decades is not the answer that the Nazis deserved. It would have taken a hundred offices like this. And a hundred people." Wiesenthal once stated, summing up his work. Among the most famous perpetrators to be tracked down with Wiesenthal's help were Adolf Eichmann and Karl Silberbauer, who had had Anne Frank arrested in Amsterdam.
In his book "Recht, nicht Rache" (Justice, not Vengeance), Wiesenthal describes his various experiences with members of the SS and other Nazis. He reports above all on his efforts against self-serving repression, political chicanery, bureaucratic indolence and increasing disinterest in Nazi crimes. Through his work, Wiesenthal drew attention to the existence of continuing widespread antisemitism in Austria, and likewise to the political and bureaucratic obstacles hindering the prosecution of violent crimes committed by Nazi perpetrators.
"Although I always hope that we learn from history, I fear at the same time that we cannot learn anything new and always repeat the same mistakes under new circumstances. This includes our view that democracy should not immediately flex all its muscles to fight fascist groups. This includes the fact that we fear employing justice against injustice."
Wiesenthal rigorously pursued the principle that a democracy must fight injustice and the refusal to come to terms with its own history by all available means. He was particularly interested in ensuring that Austria come to terms with its Nazi past and vociferously advocated a functioning Austrian post-war judicial system. Instead, the Austrian judiciary sought to re-integrate former Nazis into society in the late 1950s. In 1955, the extraordinary judicial system of People's Courts was dissolved. The provisions of the "National Socialism Prohibition Act", Federal Law Gazette 1947/25 were repealed in 1957 and a general amnesty was issued. Thus, it was no longer possible to sentence Nazi perpetrators because of their affiliation with a murderous apparatus: it had to be proven that they had personally committed specific crimes. As a result of this regulation, it was possible for Franz Murer to be acquitted in 1963, although numerous Jews testified against him in court and reported on the atrocious crimes committed by the "Butcher of Vilna". At the time, many Austrians actually applauded his acquittal.
This was a bitter pill to swallow for Wiesenthal, who had worked hard for many years to secure the arrest of the former Nazi Party functionary. Nevertheless, he was not discouraged and continued to advocate Austria’s confrontation with its Nazi past. In the 1970s, Bruno Kreisky made former Nazis socially acceptable by including them in his minority government. This step was met with fierce criticism by Wiesenthal and resulted in a public conflict with the then Federal Chancellor.
The Kreisky-Peter-Wiesenthal Affair
In 1970, his criticism of Bruno Kreisky's minority government with the FPÖ (Austrian Freedom Party) placed Wiesenthal in the media spotlight. Among the members of the minority government were four former Nazis, including a former SS Untersturmführer. When Wiesenthal also criticised Kreisky five years later for considering involving the then FPÖ chairman Friedrich Peter in the formation of a government, and in the aftermath of the general elections additionally drew attention to the FPÖ politician’s SS past, he became the subject of considerable hostility. The then Federal Chancellor Bruno Kreisky reacted to Wiesenthal's revelations with unaccustomed emotion and in turn accused Wiesenthal of having been a "Nazi collaborator" himself. The accusations, which Kreisky repeated several times in public, translated into Kreisky’s criminal conviction for libel in 1989.
Wiesenthal’s long-time friend and co-worker, Peter Michael Lingens, described Kreisky's accusations in the Profil news magazine at the time as "immoral, outrageous and undignified", making him one of the few people to defend Wiesenthal. During the conflict, which was mainly waged in the media, the public was largely on Kreisky's side.
Instead of launching a public debate about Austria’s role during the Nazi era, a heated debate arose around the controversy. The Kronen Zeitung daily newspaper portrayed Wiesenthal as a "demonic manhunter" and labelled him an enemy and troublemaker. The then chairman of the SPÖ (Austrian Socialist Party) group in Parliament, Heinz Fischer, called for an investigative committee dealing with Simon Wiesenthal to be set up, which however never occured. Later, Fischer said he regretted that move and as Federal President he presented Wiesenthal with the Grand Decoration of Honour in Gold for services to the Republic of Austria in June 2005.
In 1982, Wiesenthal only narrowly escaped a bomb attack. The neo-Nazi Ekkehard Weil carried out a series of attacks on Jewish business premises and private residences in Austria, including Simon Wiesenthal’s apartment. However, the assassination attempt failed due to a defect in the bomb's electric detonator. The sentences were lenient: Ekkehard Weil received a five-year prison sentence. It was, however, not possible to provide incontrovertible evidence that Weil had been behind the attack in front of Wiesenthal's apartment building.
In 1977, the Simon Wiesenthal Center was founded in Los Angeles. The objective pursued by the centre, which regards itself as an international human rights organisation, has been and still is researching the Holocaust, antisemitism, hate and terrorism both in a historic and contemporary context. Focusing on awareness-raising and education, it works towards teaching the lessons of the Holocaust, and promoting remembrance, tolerance and human rights. The centre has offices in New York, Miami, Jerusalem, Paris and Buenos Aires.
In 2005 Vienna Wiesenthal Institute was established in his name as an international centre for Holocaust research in Vienna. In 2002, Wiesenthal was personally involved in and contributed to developing the concept for the new Institute, whose archives include the holdings of the archive of the Association of Jews Persecuted by the Nazi Regime stemming from Wiesenthal's former offices in Linz and Vienna.
On 20 September 2005 Simon Wiesenthal died in Vienna at the age of 96, two years after his wife Cyla. At his own request, his mortal remains were buried in Herzliya, Israel.
APA Press Release: Mein Großvater Simon Wiesenthal. Eine Familiengeschichte (My Grandfather Simon Wiesenthal. A family history). Simon Wiesenthal Lecture by Rachel Kreisberg-Greenblatt. Link: https://bit.ly/3rKxd4a. (last accessed: 13 March 2021). (German)
Binder, Dieter: Die Kreisky-Peter Wiesenthal Affaire. 1975. (The 1975 Kreisky-Peter-Wiesenthal Affair). Online: House of Austrian History. Link: https://bit.ly/2M5HmZu (last accessed: 18 January 2021). (German)
Böhler, Ingrid: "Wenn die Juden ein Volk sind, so ist es ein mieses Volk“ (If the Jews are a people, they are a wretched people). Die Kreisky-Peter Wiesenthal Affaire 1975. (The 1975 Kreisky-Peter-Wiesenthal Affair). Print source: in: Gehler, Michael / Sickinger, Hubert (eds.): Politische Affären und Skandale in Österreich. From Mayerling to Waldheim. Kulturverlag, Thaur/Vienna/Munich 1996, pp. 502-531. Link: https://bit.ly/2XTDqNX (accessed 19 January 2021). (German)
Bund jüdischer Verfolgter des Naziregimes (Association of Jewish Victims of the Nazi Regime), Aktivisten und Aktivistinnen gegen Neonazismus und Antisemitismus (BJVN). Link: https://bit.ly/38Y8rqp (accessed:17 January 2021). (German)
Döscher, Hans-Jürgen: Review: Simon Wiesenthal, Recht, nicht Rache (Justice, not Vengeance). Recollections. 3rd ed. Berlin, Ullstein 1989. in: Historische Zeitschrift, 01 January 1990, Vol.251, p.750f. (German)
Hirnschall, Regina A.: Auf der Suche nach Gerechtigkeit - Simon Wiesenthal in der Berichterstattung des Nachrichtenmagazins (In Search of Justice – reports on Simon Wiesenthal in the news magazine “profil”. University of Vienna, 2009, p. 91. (German)
Special on Tom Segev "Simon Wiesenthal". The Life and Legends. Link: https://bit.ly/3tNwCiY (Last accessed: 13.03.21). (German)
Mein Freund Murer (My friend Murer). In: Korso. The sustainable magazine for Graz and Styria. December, 2008. Link: https://bit.ly/3oJv5au (last accessed: 2 February 2021). (German)
nachkriegsjustiz.at, Service: Rechtsquellen (historische Gesetzestexte, Fundstellen). Link: https://bit.ly/3cwwEVk (last accessed: 13 March 2021). (German)
Pelinka, Anton: Simon Wiesenthal und die österreichische Innenpolitik. Paper presented at the conference "Österreichs Umgang mit der NS-Täterschaft" on the occasion of Simon Wiesenthal’s 90th birthday, Vienna, 2/3 December 1998. Link: https://bit.ly/38VuBtj (accessed: 17 January 2021). (German)
"Recht, nicht Rache" - Simon Wiesenthal wäre 100 (Justice, not vengeance – Simon Wiesenthal would have been 100). DerStandard.at, 30 December 2008. Link: https://bit.ly/39LT4QS (accessed: 18 January 2021).
Riegler, Thomas: Gemeinsamer antizionistischer Kampf. Dokumente. Österreichische Neonazis planten ein Attentat auf Simon Wiesenthal (Joint anti-Zionist struggle. Documents. Austrian neo-Nazis planned to assassinate Simon Wiesenthal). (German). profil.at, 18 April 2013. Link: https://bit.ly/3nVwquH (last accessed: 18 January 2021).
Sachslehner, Johannes: 'Rosen Für Den Mörder': Die Zwei Leben Des SS-Mannes Franz Murer. (Roses for the murderer: the two lives of SS man Franz Murer), Molden publishing house, 2017. (German)
Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies. The Life of Simon Wiesenthal. Link: https://bit.ly/2LLnNpp (last accessed:17 January 2021).
Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies. Simon Wiesenthal in Quotations. Link: https://bit.ly/39JD1Dm (17 January 2021). Simon Wiesenthal Center. Link: https://bit.ly/39JaYnj (17 January 2021).
Wiesenthal, Simon: Justice, not Vengeance. Recollections. Frankfurt am Main/Berlin, 1988.
 See: Vienna Wiesenthal Institut for Holocaust Studies. The Life of Simon Wiesenthal. Link: https://bit.ly/2LLnNpp (last accessed on: 17 January 2021).
 See: APA presse release: Mein Großvater Simon Wiesenthal. Eine Familiengeschichte. (My Grandfather Simon Wiesenthal. A Family Story), Simon Wiesenthal Lecture by Rachel Kreisberg-Greenblatt. Link: https://bit.ly/3rKxd4a. (last accessed on: 13 March 2021), (in German).
 See: ibid.
 “Recht, nicht Rache“ - Simon Wiesenthal wäre 100. (Justice, not Vengeance - Simon Wiesenthal would have been 100). DerStandard.at (last accessed: 30 December 2008), Link: https://bit.ly/39LT4QS (last accessed: 18 January 2021), (in German).
 Wiesenthal, Simon: Justice, not Vengeance. Recollections. Frankfurt am Main/Berlin, 1988.
 See: Döscher, Hans-Jürgen: Rezension: Simon Wiesenthal, Recht, nicht Rache. Erinnerungen. 3rd edition. Berlin, Ullstein 1989. In: Historische Zeitschrift, 1 January 1990, Vol.251, p.750f. (German)
 See: nachkriegsjustiz.at, (Austrian Research Agency for Post-War Justice) Service: Rechtsquellen (historische Gesetzestexte, Fundstellen). Link: https://bit.ly/3cwwEVk (last accessed: 13 March 2021), (German).
 See: Sachslehner, Johannes: ’Rosen Für Den Mörder’: Die Zwei Leben Des SS-Mannes Franz Murer (Roses for the murderer: the two lives of SS man Franz Murer). Molden publishing house, 2017 (German).
 See: ibid.
 Böhler, Ingrid:“Wenn die Juden ein Volk sind, so ist es ein mieses Volk.“ (If the Jews are a people, they are a wretched people), Die Kreisky-Peter-Wiesenthal-Affäre 1975 (The 1975 Kreisky-Peter-Wiesenthal Affair). Print source: in: Gehler, Michael / Sickinger, Hubert (eds.): Politische Affären und Skandale in Österreich. Von Mayerling bis Waldheim. Kulturverlag, Thaur/Vienna/Munich 1996, p. 502-531. Link: https://bit.ly/2XTDqNX (last accessed: 19 January 2021). (German)
 See: Pelinka, Anton: Simon Wiesenthal und die österreichische Innenpolitik. Paper presented at the conference »Österreichs Umgang mit der NS-Täterschaft« organised on the occasion of Simon Wiesenthals 90th birthday, Vienna, 2 - 3 December 1998. Link: https://bit.ly/38VuBtj (accessed: 17 January 2021), (German).
 Lingens, M. Peter: “Versöhnung mit den Nazis – aber wie?“. profil, 21 October 1975, no. 43, p. 18. Quote based on: Hirnschall, Regina A.: Auf der Suche nach Gerechtigkeit - Simon Wiesenthal in der Berichterstattung des Nachrichtenmagazins profil. University of Vienna, 2009, p. 91, (German).
 See: ibid. p.92.
 See: ibid. p 131.
 See: Binder, Dieter: Kreisky-Peter-Wiesenthal Affäre. 1975. (The 1975 Kreisky-Peter-Wiesenthal Affair) Online: Haus der Geschichte Österreich. Link: https://bit.ly/2M5HmZu (last accessed: 18 Janaury 2021).
 See: Riegler, Thomas: Gemeinsamer antizionistischer Kampf. Dokumente. Österreichische Neonazis planten ein Attentat auf Simon Wiesenthal. (Joint anti-Zionist struggle. Documents. Austrian neo-Nazis planned to assassinate Simon Wiesenthal). profil.at, 18 April 2013. Link: https://bit.ly/3nVwquH (last accessed: 18 January 2021), (German).
 See: Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies. The Life of Simon Wiesenthal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Prospective prizewinners have made an outstanding contribution – through projects, initiatives or in other meaningful ways – towards combating antisemitism and/or educating the public about the Holocaust by
- actively fostering, consolidating and imparting knowledge and awareness about the Holocaust;
- raising awareness in society about the dangers of antisemitism in the present;
- increasing understanding of the mechanisms and consequences of antisemitism and thereby strengthening democratic culture in everyday life;
- acting as a beacon of civil courage, thereby highlighting the value and importance of the involvement of each and every individual;
- advocating for measures to counteract antisemitism and all forms of Holocaust relativisation;
- fostering understanding and sensitivity in areas where a critical attitude towards antisemitism should be particularly encouraged;
- contributing to the development of a common awareness in the fight against antisemitism
- or otherwise contributing towards a culture of remembrance that is innovative, sustainable and dedicated to educating people.
Special consideration will be given to projects, initiatives and achievements that create fresh impetus and place new accents, that set an example for others and appear capable of having a lasting impact on the present and the future.
Yes. Candidates may submit an entry in their own right or be nominated by a third party.
Yes. Also eligible to submit an entry are, for example, civil society organisations such as clubs, associations, foundations, non-profit limited liability companies; interest groups, regional affiliations such as local clubs and associations, i.e. organisations emerging from the middle and grassroots of society; human rights organisations; non-governmental organisations; welfare institutions, cultural organisations, educational and training institutions; youth organisations, family associations, students and student groups, apprentices and apprentice groups, as well as youth and schoolchildren groups.
Yes. Individuals or groups from civil society in Austria or abroad can submit an entry or be nominated for the Simon Wiesenthal Prize, regardless of their nationality.
Candidates will be assessed by the Simon Wiesenthal Prize Jury on the merits of their entries and in accordance with the Rules of Procedure issued by the Board of Trustees.
The Simon Wiesenthal Prize Jury will assess the candidates on the sole basis of the information contained in the submitted documents and submit a shortlist of potential prizewinners to the Board of Trustees within four weeks, providing reasons for its shortlisted entries in writing. The jury may shortlist up to five candidates and rank them in assessed order of merit.
The Simon Wiesenthal Prize is endowed with an annual sum of 30,000 euros. It is awarded in two categories:
- Civic engagement to combat antisemitism (7,500 €)
- Civic engagement to promote Holocaust education (7,500 €)
In addition, a main prize endowed with 15,000 € will be awarded for outstanding civic engagement to combat antisemitism and/or promote Holocaust education.
Entries must be submitted online using the form available on the Simon Wiesenthal Prize website. Attachments must be uploaded electronically.
The entry should state why the candidate(s) would be (a) worthy recipient(s) of the prize and demonstrate the candidate’s achievements in the areas set out in the Prize Announcement.
On the entry form the candidate must provide all information required by the National Fund to
- ensure that the candidate meets the formal entry requirements
- examine whether the activities subject of the entry comply with the objectives of the prize