When I received the assignment to review Tom Segev’s “Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends,” I also received a letter from The Simon Wiesenthal Center. The NGO today has a broad mission of combating BDS, Iraninian incitement to Genocide and defending the Jewish state. All the more reason for young readers today to get a better understanding of its namesake, who, according to Segev, “was responsible of the capture of hundreds of Nazi war criminals.”
Of them, the one Nazi most often associated with Wiesenthal is Eichmann, and here Segev is careful to parse fact from fiction. Segev credits him with revealing Eichmann’s whereabouts; but it’s a careful revelation. In fact, author and scholar Deborah Lipstadt in her book, “The Eichmann Trial” states Wiesenthal “contributed relatively little to this capture.”
Segev explains that part of the issue was that Israel needed to at first refrain from admitting that its agents abducted Eichmann, in order to placate Argentina, where he was captured. Thus, the media focused on Wiesenthal, who was always careful not to ascribe the actual abduction/operation to himself.
Segev writes with this kind of scrupulous detail about one of the 20th century’s most complex legacies, examining Wiesenthal from every angle while also demystifying his legendary status.
Indeed, as Segev points out, one reason Wiesenthal felt the need to bask in the media spotlight was that it helped serve his purposes. His fame led many survivors to turn to him and provide leads. Segev writes, “His address in Vienna became a beacon for Holocaust survivors.”