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Conscience Of The Holocaust

November 21, 2005
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Wiesenthal pledged his life and his energies for a single cause: “When history looks back, I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it…If we pardon this genocide, it will be repeated, and not only on Jews. If we don’t learn this lesson, then millions died for nothing.”

He is credited with bringing approximately 1,100 Nazi war criminals to justice. While the details are uncertain, there is common agreement that Wiesenthal played a major role in finding former SS leader Adolf Eichmann, who organized the extermination camps in Poland. Eichmann was tracked to Argentina, abducted by the Israeli secret service in 1960, tried in Israel, and hanged.

I heard Wiesenthal speak well over 20 years ago in a south Minneapolis synagogue.  I went to hear him thinking that he must be a very bitter man to be pursuing Nazis all these years. This was early in my career as an evangelical involved in Holocaust studies, and I knew nothing. I left the synagogue that night spiritually shaken. I watched and listened to a man who did not exhibit a shred of bitterness. Wiesenthal appeared to me to be simply a man driven by a commitment to those who had died in horrible ways, on his right and his left, every day for four years while his own life hung in the balance.

Wiesenthal was often asked why he had become a searcher of Nazi criminals, instead of resuming a profitable career in architecture. He gave this response: “When we come to the other world and meet the millions of Jews who died in the camps and they ask us, ‘What have you done?’ there will be many answers. You may say, ‘I became a jeweler.’ Another will say, ‘I built houses,’ but I will say, ‘I didn’t forget you.’”

I suggest reading “The Sunflower,” Wiesenthal’s story of his experience with a dying Nazi officer who wanted his forgiveness. It raises and contemplates the Jewish and Christian view on forgiveness—who can give it, who should receive it, and what is the Biblical position. It should be considered by all who want to build Jewish-Christian understanding of these issues.

If you would like to learn more about this man, a video called, “The Murderers Among Us,” made several years ago about Wiesenthal’s life, is out of print but can still be found on some Internet Web sites.

Wiesenthal is gone now, but his legacy of remembering continues. May we also determine in our hearts to remember, remember, remember.

By JoAnn G. Magnuson, Interfaith Relations Director, Bridges for Peace—USA

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