Known as the "Jewish James Bond," Simon Wiesenthal is credited with bringing 1,100 Nazis war criminals to justice, including a role in the capture of Adolph Eichmann, the architect of The Final Solution. The survivor of numerous concentration camps was adamant in his commitment to speak for the 6 million dead Jews.
He refused to quit -- even when he and his family were threatened.
As portrayed by Tom Dugan, the writer and star of the riveting one-man show Wiesenthal, off-Broadway at the Acorn Theater, Weisenthal did not fight for vengeance but justice. In addition to Jewish Holocaust victims, he also spoke for the murdered Soviets, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals and Jehovah's Witnesses.
The former architect was relentless in his refusal to be sidelined by bureaucratic indifference, the Cold War and ongoing anti-Semitism. His life's work was a promise to the 6 million: "I did not forget you."
Persistence and passion were his guiding stars. But far from a lecture on the Holocaust, Wiesenthal is a remarkable platform to present a compassionate man who understood that statistics blur horror; individual stories demand our attention.
In the guise of welcoming a group of Americans to his office on his retirement day, the 95-year begins his remembrance. With humor, an occasional joke, a hopeful note and a recount of cruelty "beyond the power of imagination," we learn about his life, coming to respect and admire the heroic Wiesenthal.
Just after the war, he cofounded The Jewish Historical Documentation Center in Linz, Austria, to gather information and testimony for future war crimes and help refugees locate lost relatives. Per Wiesenthal, Austrians killed half of all Jewish victims, though Austria was loath to prosecute its war criminals or address its national role in the Holocaust.
He moved the center to Vienna in 1961, just down the street from members of Eichmann's family, waiting for any nugget of information that could deliver Adolph Eichmann to justice.
Rather than track Nazis himself, Wiesenthal meticulously pieced together data and information from a vast network of friends, colleagues and sympathizers, including German war veterans, appalled by what they had witnessed.
Wiesenthal understood that though the Nazis lost the war, their ideology, like their freedom, remained. He was also instrumental in destroying the much-used argument "I was just following orders," citing two German officers who refused to carry out death sentences. Blind obedience to authority is vicious, he reminds us. We have choices. And he chose to stay and fight.
High on Wiesenthal's most-wanted list was Franz Stangl, the commandant of the Treblinka and Sobibor concentration camps in Poland. Located in Brazil, Stangl was sent to West Germany for imprisonment in 1967. He also aided in the capture of Franz Murer, "The Butcher of Wilno" and Erich Rajakowitsch, in charge of the death transports in Holland. Another high-priority case was Karl Silberbauer, the Gestapo officer who arrested Anne Frank. Dutch neo-Nazis were discrediting the authenticity of her diary until Wiesenthal located Silberbauer, then a police inspector in Austria, in 1963, who confessed to her capture.
Wiesenthal wrote several books on his exploits, including The Murderers Among Us and Every Day Remembrance Day.
Dugan's 90-minute play is heartfelt, deeply moving and compelling; he makes history come alive. The 53-year-old actor nails Wiesenthal's Austrian dialect, elderly mannerisms and mischievous charm. His extraordinary performance pays tribute to one man's lifelong crusade for justice and tolerance. Wiesenthal should be required viewing for all.
Photo: Carol Rosegg