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Deconstructing Simon Wiesenthal

Simon Wiesenthal, the 'Nazi Hunter.' PHOTO: Horst Tappe/Hulton Archive/Getty

By Lawrence Swaim | 4 January 2010

MONDOWEISS — 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.”

Daniel Finkelstein, grandson of the founder of the Wiener Library in London, one of the oldest and most reputable institutions for the study of the Holocaust, 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.”

So far the Wiener Library itself has not responded directly to 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. […]

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