Deconstructing Simon Wiesenthal
By Lawrence Swaim | January 4, 2010
The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, California, is named after the famed Austrian Nazi-hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, a connection that turns out to be appropriate in disturbing but unexpected ways. That is, both Simon Wiesenthal and the Center named after him have been accused of flagrant lying, exaggerations and half-truths. Wiesenthal’s confabulations were never a matter of published discourse among scholars, so far as this writer can determine, nor were they popular knowledge until quite recently. In any case, it is now known that Wiesenthal, a born story-teller, rarely let the facts get in the way of a good story—in fact many of the things he claimed to have done were fabrications. This recently came to light with the publication, in June of 2009, of Hunting Evil, by British Author Guy Walters, in which he characterizes Simon Wiesenthal as “a liar—and a bad one at that.” Wiesenthal, he maintains, would “concoct outrageous stories about his war years and make false claims about his academic career.” Walters found that there were “so many inconsistencies between his three main memoirs and between those memoirs and contemporaneous documents, that it is impossible to establish a reliable narrative from them. Wiesenthal’s scant regard for the truth makes it possible to doubt everything he ever wrote or said.”1
The Wiener Library, one of the world’s oldest and most reputable institutions for the study of the Holocaust, has endorsed this revaluation of Wiesenthal. That is interesting because one assumes that they, like many others in the field of Holocaust Studies, may have been aware for some time that there were problems with Wiesenthal’s resume. The Wiener Library’s Director Ben Barkow concluded that “accepting that Wiesenthal was a showman and a braggart and, yes, even a liar, can live alongside acknowledging the contribution he made.”
Daniel Finkelstein, grandson of the Wiener Library’s founder, had this to say in an August 2009 article in the London Times about Guy Walters’ Hunting Evil: “Walters’s documentary evidence on Wiesenthal’s inconsistencies and lies is impeccable. He shows how the Nazi hunter’s accounts of his wartime experiences are contradictory and implausible. He demonstrates that he had no role, contrary to his own assertion, in the capture of Adolf Eichmann. He pitilessly dissects Wiesenthal’s overblown claims about the number he brought to justice, suggesting it was not much more than a handful.”2
So what is the truth about Simon Wiesenthal? Born in 1908 in Galicia, Wiesenthal attended the Czech Technical University in Prague in 1929, where he had a reputation as a gifted raconteur. (Walters says he appeared as “a stand-up comedian,” which could be a British approximation of the cabaret theatre popular at that time.) Wiesenthal claimed to have graduated from Czech Technical, but records show that he didn’t. He also maintained that he studied at Lwow Polytechnic in Galicia in 1935, but there is no record of him ever attending classes there. Wiesenthal likewise claimed to have operated his own architectural office and built elegant villas, but again Polish records do not support this. Instead he appears to have worked as a supervisor in a Lviv furniture factory from 1935 until 1939, a somewhat more mundane occupation, and one that Wiesenthal himself acknowledged before he became a famous celebrity in Vienna.
During the Second World War, Wiesenthal was apprehended by the Nazis, and was in at least six different Nazi camps. For reasons unknown, however, he claimed later to have been in 13 of them. This raises the question that must inevitably come up when contemplating Wiesenthal’s stories about himself. Being in a single Nazi camp would clearly be a horrific, mind-blowing experience, much less being in six of them. (This writer cannot confirm which ones were death camps and which ones labor or concentration camps.) So why did Wiesenthal feel it necessary to inflate the number of camps he’d been in to 13, particularly since such claims were likely to be checked later?
Part of the answer seems to be that Wiesenthal was a natural-born confabulator and liar who had a powerful need to create the persona of a superhero. But that alone does not explain his behavior. The Holocaust raises questions about human nature, and there is a demand for accounts that can explain, rationalize, and create a moral context for it. Wiesenthal offered people a plausible narrative with a moral framework: Nazis incarcerated him; he miraculously escaped; he now tracked them down. The systemic evil of the Holocaust was so huge and so threatening that it could be successfully addressed only by a superman whose capacity to survive evil and punish transgressors was larger than life. Wiesenthal was acutely aware of this; and his heart-stopping accounts of last-minutes escapes from the Nazis played to this anxiety. And the fact that he was bringing masses of Nazi war criminals to justice was the happy ending to the success story, the kind people wanted to hear; but as Walters demonstrates in Hunting Evil, at least one of Wiesenthal’s accounts of last-minute escapes from the Nazis can be shown to be a fabrication, and others are questionable.
After the war, Wiesenthal founded two organizations that sought to collect and centralize information on Nazi war criminals at large. Sometimes these war criminals were “hiding in plain sight,” in the sense that governments knew where they were but lacked the political will to arrest them. The main function of Wiesenthal’s organizations, then, was to keep the issue current in the public eye—and he had the kind of personality, and the public relations skills, to do just that. This is the real reason for Wiesenthal’s notoriety. The organizations set up by Wiesenthal were research organizations, and had no real investigative functions, such as law enforcement might have, and no power to arrest people. Guy Walters concludes (correctly, in my opinion) that the disinterestedness of western governments in hunting down Nazi criminals was far more repugnant morally than Wiesenthal’s experiments with the truth. That said, the fact that Wiesenthal told so many unnecessary lies, and that people who might have suspected this said nothing to challenge them, is one more example of the Holocaust’s ability to corrupt.
Although Wiesenthal claimed to have brought over a thousand Nazi criminals to justice, he generated information leading to the arrest of less than a hundred at most. His most outrageous claim was that he participated in the tracking down of Adolf Eichmann. This was, and remains, a falsehood—the tracking and kidnapping of Eichmann was the work of Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, and Wiesenthal’s involvement was limited to passing on whatever information he had to them. This inconvenient reality was widely known—certainly it was known to Mossad, which despised and resented Wiesenthal’s self-serving stories—but apparently few people were willing to question Wiesenthal’s many claims.
Except in Austria, that is, where Wiesenthal was for a long time a controversial figure. It the 1970s, Wiesenthal publicly berated Austrian Prime Minister Bruno Kreisky for having so many ex-Nazis in his cabinet—and in this, Wiesenthal was undoubtedly right. The controversy he stirred up was especially important because Austrians had, up to that time, generally avoided much public discussion about their own responsibility for Nazi crimes; and Wiesenthal may have welcomed the opportunity to open up this issue when he made his sensational—but accurate—accusations about Kreisky’s cabinet choices. Kreisky, a Jewish Social Democrat, hinted that Wiesenthal had survived the war only because he collaborated with the Gestapo; but Wiesenthal sued for libel and won. Wiesenthal also drew fire for emphasizing that others besides Jews died in the gas chambers, which brought him into conflict with Elie Wiesel, who took the view that the Holocaust should be seen as an exclusively Jewish event. Some of Wiesenthal’s ideas were good ones—how ironic, then, that his ideas were given serious consideration only because of the rough-and-tumble public persona that Wiesenthal had invented for himself as part of his entrepreneurial and overly-imaginative self-promotion as a swashbuckling Nazi-hunter.
Wiesenthal received practically every honor known to the 20th century, over 100 of them. Mainly because of his own self-promotion, Wiesenthal became much more than an author with some dubious and not particularly well-written books—he became a secular saint. But of what secular religion was Saint Wiesenthal the exemplar? The trouble with Wiesenthal was not his extraordinary efforts to focus public attention on Nazi criminals—the problem was, and is, that his accounts of his own experiences were never challenged by people who professed to have an interest in historical truth. His addiction to confabulation made him a prisoner of what Norman Finkelstein has called The Holocaust Industry, which we may describe as the systematic use of the Holocaust for personal and organizational gain.
We are left with the sense that perhaps some who noticed discrepancies in Wiesenthal’s books said nothing because they were afraid of being denounced as anti-Semites. Author Guy Walters refers to this in his July 2009 article in the Sunday Times. “Some may feel I am too harsh on [Wiesenthal] and that I run a professional danger in seemingly allying myself with a vile host of neo-Nazis, revisionists, Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites. I belong firmly outside any of these squalid camps and it is my intention to wrestle criticism of Wiesenthal away from their clutches. His figure is a complex and important one. If there was a motive for his duplicity, it may well have been rooted in good intentions.” Guy Walters made this caveat a month after his book came out last summer; the fact that he made it at all indicates the sensitivity with which a professional historian must approach anything having to do with the Holocaust.
In fact, the appearance of Walters’ book has some of the characteristics of a literary campaign, although not necessarily of pre-arrangement. Walters’ Hunting Evil was published in Britain on June 18, 2009, at the beginning of last summer. A month later, in July, an article by Walters appeared in the Sunday Times, which set forth his reasons for revealing Wiesenthal’s duplicities. (One might think that because something is true might be reason enough for a historian to reveal it.) In August, 2009, a month later, Daniel Finkelstein’s supportive review appears in the Jewish Chronicle, validating Walters’ research. Finkelstein’s review was pivotal, since—as the grandson of the founder of the world’s oldest library on Holocaust history—he is assumed to speak with an authority that others lack, including perhaps Guy Walters himself.
That is not to say that the above was part of a coordinated campaign. Walters wrote on his website that he does not know Finkelstein, and based on internal evidence this writer believes that to be true. It simply indicates how complicated telling the truth can become when one writes about the Holocaust, and how important it is for many historians to carefully consider the public-relations angle before revealing things that might make people uncomfortable. In Guy Walters’ case, he received support for his findings from a man whose credentials in Holocaust Studies cannot be challenged. (There is at least one new book about Wiesenthal coming out soon, which after the Walters’ revelations will almost surely be forced to deal with obvious discrepancies in Wiesenthal’s narrative.)
There is ongoing fallout to the Walters’ book in other areas. On November 26, 2009, there appeared a sensational Associated Press report (carried on Walters’ website) that 12 members of the 15 member international advisory board of the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies have resigned, apparently after a hysterical uproar about the availability of research material to scholars. (The AP report gives as the reason for the international hullabaloo certain objections by scholars “that restrictions on access to files made independent research impossible.”) Inevitably, one of those involved in the AP report warned that unrestricted access to the Institute’s files might encourage “holocaust deniers.” The opposite seems much more likely. The longer people hide the truth about Wiesenthal, the more doubts it will create about how objectively historians are able to write about the Holocaust.
Beginning with the publication in 1961 of Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews, people on the Left, political and cultural progressives, and some psychologists sought to deconstruct the Holocaust so that they could learn how systemic evil operates. If the Shoah was history’s greatest crime, why not try to understand how it happened, so such crimes could be thwarted in the future? That was the right approach to take, but it quickly led to a kind of truth that many people did not want to accept—that there is a Nazi in every person, and that any tribe, national group or country in the world could experience the same moral collapse as Germany experienced, given the right conditions. That was too threatening for many people, because they did not want to acknowledge how deep evil ran in human nature.
And it was, also, the ultimate threat to the neo-cons that were beginning to gain power in the US. If the same moral collapse that happened in Germany could happen elsewhere, such an analysis could be applied anywhere, which meant that the big neo-conservative foundations could not control discourse about the Holocaust. An objective deconstruction of the development of evil in Germany could even serve as a guide to what is happening in Israel. The neo-cons could not allow that to happen, because of their position that Israel’s government could never be criticized; and because the neo-conservatives did not want a truly objective deconstruction of the Holocaust that could teach people how to defeat systemic evil. On the contrary—they sought to create their own systemic evil in the US and in the Middle East, by using the Holocaust to arouse fear, anger, guilt and aggression, as well as religious nationalism generally.
Invoking the Holocaust in social and political discourse became a way for the powerful neo-cons and the Israel Lobby to use the unresolved trauma of the Holocaust, in some cases to generate ideas and in other cases to suppress them. The use of the Holocaust to manipulate people and societies to uncritically support Israel depends on a particularization of the Holocaust—it insists, in other words, that Nazi evil cannot be compared to any other form of systemic evil. It insists that the causes of German moral collapse (violent nationalism, fanatical identification with victim status, deep feelings of inferiority, a longing for apocalyptic solutions) cannot be applied anywhere else. That is despicable nonsense.
Not only can the causes of German moral collapse be seen in other nations and situations; such an analysis must be applied to other nations and situations, if we are to learn anything about how systemic evil works. Neo-cons generally dislike that, because they wish to discuss the Holocaust only within a context of Jewish exceptionalism. But sadly, there’s a Nazi in everybody—in fact, that’s the most important thing that the Holocaust teachers us. As Avraham Burg writes, today’s Israel feels a lot like Weimer, not because Israeli culture is so similar to central Europe’s culture, but because the decline into evil is always similar wherever it occurs. How could Israel not look like Weimer, when so much of what passes for a national consciousness in Israel is simply trauma from the Holocaust, which people do not attempt to deconstruct along universal lines but to which they cling as personal as well as national identities?
It was not until after Simon Wiesenthal died in 2005 that a British historian was able to write frankly about the duplicity in Simon Wiesenthal’s stories. Again I must ask, why did not the people who may have known about Wiesenthal’s casual relationship with the truth speak up about it? Predictably, the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles, California, is in no hurry to accept this new historical appraisal of their namesake—their website, in fact, faithfully replicates many of Wiesenthal’s lies and inaccuracies. But that should not surprise us, because the Simon Wiesenthal Center, like Simon Wiesenthal himself, is not interested in historical truth, nor is it committed to teaching about the history of the Holocaust in all its complexity. The Simon Wiesenthal Center is, rather, committed to using the Holocaust to raise money, and using the trauma associated with it to promote the Center’s extremist political perspectives.
Lawrence Swaim is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Freedom Foundation. This article is from his upcoming book Trauma Bond–An Inquiry Into the Nature of Evil,
8 Comments »
or go to
From the Archives
Especially left and liberal professionals and service intellectuals but also right-wing members of the intelligentsia vehemently attack and ridicule “conspiracy theories” such as the present 911 Truth movement.
Why? … continue
Aletho News Exclusive Content
This article will examine some of the connections between the US and UK National Security apparatus and the appearance of the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory beginning after the accident at Three Mile Island. … continue
Also by Aletho News:
September 19, 2011
March 8, 2011
January 2, 2011
October 10, 2010
July 5, 2010
February 25, 2010
February 7, 2010
January 5, 2010
December 26, 2009
December 19, 2009
December 4, 2009
May 9, 2009
- Two Palestinian youths violently arrested in Al-Khalil (Hebron) May 4, 2015
- Tear gas and fire threaten Ni’lin demo May 4, 2015
- Harvesting While Harassed- Jabari family face military and settlers to gather their crops May 3, 2015
- Solidarity from Palestine to Baltimore May 1, 2015
- UN affects Kafr Qaddum’s demonstration May 1, 2015
TagsAfghanistan Africa al-Akhbar Al-Manar al-Qaeda American Civil Liberties Union American Israel Public Affairs Committee Argentina Bashar al-Assad Benjamin Netanyahu Brazil Britain Canada Central Intelligence Agency China CIA Colombia Egypt EU European Union FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation France Gaza Germany Hamas Hebron Hezbollah Honduras Hugo Chávez Human rights India Intelligence International Atomic Energy Agency International Solidarity Movement Internet Iran Iraq Iraq War Israel Israeli settlement Japan Jerusalem John Kerry Latin America Lebanon Libya Middle East Military National Security Agency NATO New York Times NSA Obama Pakistan Palestine Palestinian prisoners in Israel Police Press TV Russia Sanctions against Iran Saudi Arabia South America Syria Turkey UK Ukraine United Nations United States USA Venezuela Washington Post West Bank Yemen Zionism
Marty on Lomborg, Ridley and Power to t… steve2 on Following the Money: The New… l8in on NATO & allies stage thousa… traducteur on Lomborg, Ridley and Power to t… aletho on Lomborg, Ridley and Power to t… traducteur on Lomborg, Ridley and Power to t… silbershark110 on USA FREEDOM Act: Just Another… aletho on Lomborg, Ridley and Power to t… traducteur on Lomborg, Ridley and Power to t… aletho on Lomborg, Ridley and Power to t… traducteur on Lomborg, Ridley and Power to t… aletho on Lomborg, Ridley and Power to t… traducteur on Lomborg, Ridley and Power to t… agent provocateur on Teen Faces Life for Breaking W… l8in on Saudi Arabia Deploys Ground Tr…
Visits Since December 2009
- 2,119,913 hits
Contact:atheonews (at) gmail.com
Recent Aletho News Posts
- This is what “lack of evidence” looks like when Jewish settlers shoot Palestinians May 4, 2015
- Protest over Zionist Police Brutality Turns Violent in Tel Aviv May 4, 2015
- The Real Looting of Baltimore… May 4, 2015
- Poland approves joint force with Ukraine & Lithuania, calls on EU to spend more on defense May 4, 2015
- Following the Money: The New Anti-Semitism? May 4, 2015
- NATO & allies stage thousands-strong drills across Europe May 4, 2015
- Winning a Nuclear War May 4, 2015
- Who Counts? May 4, 2015
- USA FREEDOM Act: Just Another Word for Lost Liberty May 3, 2015
- Violence in Baltimore: When Did It Really Start? May 3, 2015
- Baltimore, Police Violence and Economic Justice May 3, 2015
- US-Saudi Led Blitzkrieg against Yemen is “An Ego Boost” May 3, 2015
- Lomborg, Ridley and Power to the People May 3, 2015
- Saudi Arabia Deploys Ground Troops in Yemen May 3, 2015
- The Myth of the Irish Recovery May 3, 2015
- Teen Faces Life for Breaking Windows While Cops who Murdered Freddie Gray Receive Far Less May 2, 2015
- The Hidden Tears of Punjab May 2, 2015
- Washington Post Columnist Cherry-Picks Estimates on Israel Nukes May 2, 2015
Looking for something?
Categories"Hope and Change" Aletho News Civil Liberties Corruption Deception Economics Environmentalism Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism False Flag Terrorism Full Spectrum Dominance Illegal Occupation Islamophobia Mainstream Media, Warmongering Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity Militarism Nuclear Power Science and Pseudo-Science Solidarity and Activism Subjugation - Torture Supremacism, Social Darwinism Timeless or most popular Video War Crimes Wars for Israel
This site is provided as a research and reference tool. Although we make every reasonable effort to ensure that the information and data provided at this site are useful, accurate, and current, we cannot guarantee that the information and data provided here will be error-free. By using this site, you assume all responsibility for and risk arising from your use of and reliance upon the contents of this site.
This site and the information available through it do not, and are not intended to constitute legal advice. Should you require legal advice, you should consult your own attorney.
Nothing within this site or linked to by this site constitutes investment advice or medical advice.
Materials accessible from or added to this site by third parties, such as comments posted, are strictly the responsibility of the third party who added such materials or made them accessible and we neither endorse nor undertake to control, monitor, edit or assume responsibility for any such third-party material.
The posting of stories, commentaries, reports, documents and links (embedded or otherwise) on this site does not in any way, shape or form, implied or otherwise, necessarily express or suggest endorsement or support of any of such posted material or parts therein.
The word "alleged" is deemed to occur before the word "fraud." Since the rule of law still applies. To peasants, at least.
This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more info go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
This is information for anyone that wishes to challenge our “fair use” of copyrighted material.
If you are a legal copyright holder or a designated agent for such and you believe that content residing on or accessible through our website infringes a copyright and falls outside the boundaries of “Fair Use”, please send a notice of infringement by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
We will respond and take necessary action immediately.
If notice is given of an alleged copyright violation we will act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material(s) in question.
All 3rd party material posted on this website is copyright the respective owners / authors. Aletho News makes no claim of copyright on such material.