Thursday, 23 July 2015

Justice League! History of Nazi Hunters

Are there actual super heroes in the world? 


Yes. But they wear tights and live in Canada.

I think I may have found them: Nazi-hunters! Usually a private individual who tracks down and gathers information on alleged former Nazis who may have perpetrated the Holocaust in Europe during World War II, with the goal of bringing them to trial.

Recently they're in the news with the trial of Oskar Groening. This week he confessed and the German court ruled that he was guilty of being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Jews and sentenced him to four years in prison:
The 94-year-old, who testified that he oversaw the collection of prisoners' belongings and ensured valuables and cash were separated to be sent to Berlin, listened expressionlessly to the verdict after a 2 1/2-month trial that could set a legal landmark. "This verdict was critical, because this is the first case brought where the prosecution charged a person who wasn't involved in the physical side of mass murder," said the Simon Wiesenthal Center's head Nazi hunter, Efraim Zuroff, in a telephone interview from Belgrade. "This paves the way for additional trials of individuals who did not literally pull the trigger but who were part of the implementation of the Final Solution."

It sounds so ultra-cool to be honest: who wouldn't love to hunt down evil doers? Are these guys real super-heroes?

The first Nazi Hunter:

simon wiesenthal Simon Wiesenthal, cazador de nazis austriacos famosos
Mr. Simon Wiesenthal. The sweetest looking man, ever.

One of the most well known hunters is Simon Wiesenthal was born on December 31, 1908, in Buczacz, in what is now the Lvov Oblast section of the Ukraine.  He attended the Technical University of Prague, from which he received his degree in architectural engineering in 1932. In 1936, Simon married Cyla Mueller and worked in an architectural office in Lvov. Their life together was happy until 1939 when shit went down: the purge of Jews by the Germans. As a result, by September 1942, most of his and his wife's relatives were dead; a total of eighty-nine members of both families perished.Wiesenthal himself survived after surviving a concentration camp - Mauthausen - which was liberated by an American armored unit on May 5, 1945. His wife as well had escaped. He didn't know she was alive but they reunited and had a daughter.

Wiesenthal began gathering and preparing evidence on Nazi atrocities for the War Crimes Section of the United States Army. After the war, he also worked for the Army's Office of Strategic Services and Counter-Intelligence Corps and headed the Jewish Central Committee of the United States Zone of Austria, a relief and welfare organization.

The evidence supplied by Wiesenthal was utilized in the American zone war crime trials. When his association with the United States Army ended in 1947, Wiesenthal and thirty volunteers opened the Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Linz, Austria, for the purpose of assembling evidence for future trials. But, as the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union intensified, both sides lost interest in prosecuting Germans, and Wiesenthal's volunteers, succumbing to frustration, drifted away to more ordinary pursuits. In 1954, the office in Linz was closed and its files were given to the Yad Vashem Archives in Israel, except for one - the dossier on Adolf Eichmann, the inconspicuous technocrat who, as chief of the Gestapo's Jewish Department, had supervised the implementation of the "Final Solution."

No - not that final solution...more like 6 Down: commit mass genocide.

While continuing his salaried relief and welfare work, including the running of an occupational training school for Hungarian and other Iron Curtain refugees, Wiesenthal never relaxed in his pursuit of the elusive Eichmann who had disappeared at the time of Germany's defeat in World War II. In 1953, Wiesenthal received information that Eichmann was in Argentina from people who had spoken to him there. He passed this information on to Israel through the Israeli embassy in Vienna and in 1954 also informed Nahum Goldmann, but the FBI had received information that Eichmann was in Damascus, Syria. It was not until 1959 that Israel was informed by Germany that Eichmann was in Buenos Aires living under the alias of Ricardo Klement. He was captured there by Israeli agents and brought to Israel for trial. Eichmann was found guilty of mass murder and executed on May 31, 1961.

Encouraged by the capture of Eichmann, Wiesenthal reopened the Jewish Documentation Center, this time in Vienna, and concentrated exclusively on the hunting of war criminals.He kept hunting Nazis till the end of his life. He died in 2005 at the age of 96.
Among Mr. Wiesenthal's many honors include decorations from the Austrian and French resistance movements, the Dutch Freedom Medal, the Luxembourg Freedom Medal, the United Nations League for the Help of Refugees Award, the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal presented to him by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, and the French Legion of Honor which he received in 1986. Wiesenthal was a consultant for the motion picture thriller, The Odessa File (Paramount, 1974). The Boys From Brazil (Twentieth Century Fox, 1978), a major motion picture based on Ira Levin's book of the same name, starring Sir Laurence Olivier as Herr Lieberman, a character styled after Wiesenthal.

The Boys from Brazil (1978)
And you know the evil guy by his mustache...

Wiesenthal's biographers credited him with ferreting out 1,100 of Adolf Hitler's major and minor killers and other Nazi war criminals since World War II. “When history looks back,” Wiesenthal said, “I want people to know the Nazis weren't able to kill millions of people and get away with it.”

One centre  is mentioned above, the Simon Wiesenthal Centre. Based in LA, they're a global human rights organization researching the Holocaust and hate in a historic and contemporary context. Not just a bunch of renegades, they are accredited as an NGO at international organizations including the United Nations.Their skills help uncover and locate where possible Nazis around the world are still in hiding. It's hard work:  first you got to find them; get enough evidence; and then persuade the authorities to act. They are still at it even though so many are so old and well, dead.
What a nice thought that eventually those bastards are worm food too.

An odd personal connection for me: a friend from university does historical research on Belarus and Ukraine and he had a lot to do with one war criminal hiding in Canada - Vladimir Katruuk served as a platoon commander of the first company of Ukrainian Schutzmannschaft Battalion 118 which carried out the murder of Jews and innocent civilians in various places in Belarus. He escaped to Canada after World War II but was stripped of his Canadian citizenship in January 1999, after his service as a Nazi collaborator was revealed. In May 2007, the Canadian authorities decided to overturn his denaturalization, a decision confirmed by the Federal Court of Appeal in November 2010. New research by Swedish historian Dr. Per Anders Rudling revealed Katriuk’s active role in the mass murder of the residents of the village of Khatyn, Belarus and provides a firm basis to overturn the decision not to strip Katriuk of his Canadian citizenship. 

Nice job sir. To read more on his research, go read this.

Next week's article is a little lighter: when did we start keeping pets?

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After all that Nazi talk, I needed a cuddle.

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