Liberation and post-war years in Linz


Cyla und Simon Wiesenthal wiedervereint nach Kriegsende in Linz Wiesenthal bei der Eröffnung der Synagoge für Displaced Persons, 1945

On May 5, 1945, the Mauthausen concentration camp was liberated by American troops. Cyla Wiesenthal survived the war partly in the Polish underground and then, until the end of the war, as a forced laborer working in a factory in Heiligenhaus, Germany. False Polish identity papers and her blond hair and blue eyes had let her pass as an “Aryan”. Together, the Wiesenthals lost 89 family members during the period of Nazi terror.

Almost immediately after his liberation, Simon Wiesenthal took up the activity, which at first gave him the strength to go on living and which was to become his self-imposed
mission in life: to search for Nazi perpetrators and bring them to a court of law. As early as May 25 – only 20 days after liberation from Mauthausen – he presented to U.S. Colonel Richard Seibel, who had taken over command of the camp, a letter offering to help bring Nazi criminals to justice. This document contains his curriculum vitae and a list of 91 Nazi perpetrators, SS men and Gestapo agents who had either caused Wiesenthal to suffer personally or who had committed crimes against his fellow prisoners.

After a few days he began work for the U.S. War Crimes Unit, and later for the OSS, the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, and for the CIC, the Counter Intelligence Corps, in Linz, Austria. He collected testimonies from survivors in the camps for displaced persons, compiled lists of Nazi criminals, and was even allowed to make arrests on his own. The majority of the roughly 2000 Nazi criminals, who were made to stand trial, were arrested in the early post-war months when many of the former Nazis were still in close proximity and numerous victims in the camps for displaced persons were able to testify against them.


Wiesenthal als Redner bei der Gedenkfeier am 1. Jahrestag der Befreiung des KZ Mauthausen, 5. Mai 1946

In September 1946, the Wiesenthal’s daughter, Pauline, was born.

In the same year, Wiesenthal established a Jewish committee of survivors of the Mauthausen concentration camp. Its members helped compile lists of criminals and witnesses and

strove to reunite families in the displaced persons camps.


Urnen mit Asche der Opfer aus den österreichischen Konzentrationslagern vor ihrer Überstellung nach Israel, 1948Urnen mit Asche aus den österreichischen KonzentrationslagernSimon Wiesenthal bei Abnahme von Prüfungen für ORTPresseausweis

After leaving the CIC in 1947, Wiesenthal opened his own private office - the Jüdische Historische Dokumentations, the Jewish Historical Documentation Center, in Linz - and, together with thirty volunteers, continued to search out Nazi criminals and gather evidence for their prosecution. He was to carry on this work in Linz until 1961.

During this period he earned his living partly as a freelance journalist, often calling attention to neo-Nazi activities. For some time he also worked for

  • the Bricha (“escape”), the Jewish underground movement which supported the illegal immigration of displaced persons to Palestine, and for
  • the Jewish charitable Organization for Rehabilitation and Training (ORT), organizing vocational and language training for displaced persons and refugees from Hungary and other Eastern European countries who planned to emigrate to the new state of Israel or elsewhere.

For years, he pursued what can be considered his most important case, the case of Adolf Eichmann. His persistent efforts to track down this “technocrat of death” contributed substantially to Eichmann’s apprehension by the Mossad (the Israeli intelligence service) in Argentina, in 1960, and to his trial and death sentence in Israel, in 1961. The investigative work leading to the final identification of Eichmann’s whereabouts is described in Wiesenthal’s book Ich jagte Eichmann (I Hunted Eichmann).

With interest in the prosecution of Nazi criminals generally waning, Wiesenthal’s work became increasingly difficult. More and more former Nazis found employment in Allied organizations as agents of the Cold War, while others soon regained positions in private and public institutions in Germany and in Austria.