Statements by simon Wiesenthal


On the significance of prosecuting Nazi criminals

"Even before I had had time to really think things through, I realized that we must not forget. If all of us forgot, the same thing might happen again, in twenty or fifty or a hundred years. I’m told that the people in Germany and Austria don’t want to hear about “these things.” Correct. But the public opinion polls show the inverse relationship between the prosecution of Nazi crimes and the upsurge of neo-Nazism. The more trials, the weaker the Nazi revival. The trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961was the greatest setback to the growth of the neo-Nazi movement in Germany and Austria. Millions of people who didn’t know, or didn’t want to know, the truth, for the first time had to listen to the facts. Today no one here can say that he didn’t know about “these things.” If someone still sympathizes with the criminals, he has placed himself unequivocally on the side of evil. Not many people like to do that."

(Interview with Joseph Wechsberg. In The Murderers Among Us, 1967,p. 8.)

"Justice is usually symbolized by a blindfolded woman holding scales, which are meant to represent the balance of guilt and punishment.  Sentences for Nazi crimes, however, cannot be well-balanced.  I am nevertheless convinced that each and every Nazi trial is in itself relevant for historical and moral reasons and that every trial is of immense significance as a lesson for young people.  These trials are a warning to the murderers of tomorrow who may already be alive today."
(Acceptance speech for the Order of the White Lion of the Czech Republic presented by President Vaclav Havel, June 26, 1999. Trans. from German.)


"There can be no moral reparation for the Jews as long as they know that the organizer of the final solution, Adolf Eichmann, is alive and free.  Material reparations or food and clothing packages  cannot entice the survivors of this huge massacre to readapt to normal life.  What they need is the certainty that the world will punish criminals such as Eichmann and that this punishment will remain as a warning for all time, so that such horrors will not be repeated."

(Ich jagte Eichmann. Gütersloh: Bertelsmann, 1961, p. 102. Trans. from German.)

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On the term "war crimes"

"A big obstacle [for the German judiciary and for all those wishing to support it] was an absolutely misleading expression, a term coined by Goebbels in 1941 and adopted by the Allies in 1942, and which has since become seemingly ineradicable.  That is the expression “war crimes”.  Every war is a crime. The crimes of the Nazis, however, began six years before the outbreak of the war - with concentration camps, the Nuremberg Laws, the Night of Broken Glass, and much more.
And during the war, especially in 1942-43, when millions of innocent people were being slaughtered, this was done in extermination camps located about 800 to1000 kilometers from the front... Describing the Nazi crimes as war crimes amounts to a whitewashing of the Nazi horrors and does not capture the nature of what really happened. It makes soldiers of the murderers.  Yet a soldier fights against armed adversaries.  He can kill and he can be killed.  Those who carried out their gruesome work in the ghettos and concentration camps “fought” at no risk to themselves.  And because their fight carried no risks, around 90% of these criminals survived the war."

 (Lecture addressed to the Union of European Journalists, Bonn, Germany, January 22, 1979. Trans. from German.)

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On the statute of limitations

The still valid international treaties [pertaining to war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity] contain no provisions with regard to statutes of limitations.  This goes along with the fundamentals of humanity and justice, because crimes against humanity and against peace differ from all individual criminal offenses in their character, in the number of perpetrators, in the degree of the applied brutality, and -  most of all -  in the number of victims. We therefore believe that the crimes against humanity must be tried in accord with international law, all the more so since West Germany as well as Austria both signed the convention against genocide.

(Verjährung – Nein, p. 8. Trans. from German.)

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On collective guilt

"It took quite a long time – maybe a year – before I could bring myself to reject the idea of collective guilt. You must understand. When you come out of the concentration camp and see that no one is still alive – you don’t take the time to really think things over.  At that time I felt that everyone was guilty, including those who were not involved at all, even those in other countries, who had been indifferent because they were not bothered by the Nazis themselves."

(“Simon Wiesenthal im Gespräch mit Guido Knopp”. In Zeugen des Jahrhunderts. Jüdische Lebenswege, p.78. Trans. from German.)


"To begin with: Even though I have not spoken my prayers in the language of the Bible since childhood, I am deeply aware of the moral value of biblical subject matter.  In the story about Sodom and Gomorrha Abraham wrestles with God saying, if there are only ten just individuals, or nine, or eight, or seven – then don’t destroy them.  God answers:  There are no just individuals.  Abraham’s struggle here was a struggle against collective guilt.  Nothing that stands in the Bible is accidental, and I recognized that I must reject the idea of collective guilt. 
Secondly: We Jews have been the victims of the collective guilt theory for 2000 years, and we have stood up against it. Why should contemporary Jews, who were not alive 2000 years ago, be held responsible for the death of Jesus on the cross....
These two considerations have led me to consistently stand up against collective guilt with respect to the Germans, the Austrians, or other nationalities for more than 40 years.  My work in the Documentation Center is aimed at pointing out individual guilt and it thus stands as the categorical  antithesis to collective guilt."

(Ein unbequemer Zeitgenosse, p. 66. Trans. from German.)


"Collective threats are incompatible with Jewish ethics,; they ignore the fact that for 2000 years Jews have been victims of collective threats and collective accusations....
Everyone acquainted with me knows that I believe only in individual guilt, not in collective guilt, and I share this opinion with the whole civilized world....
There is no justice without the truth. During more than four decades of my work I have never accused anyone without being in possession of  conclusive evidence of his/her guilt in the form of witness testimonies or other documentation. To this practice I owe my reputation, not only among Jews but also among historians, judges, public prosecutors, and the general public."

( "My personal comments on the case of Dr. Kurt Waldheim". In the Documentation Center’s Bulletin of Information, January 1987, with reference to the World Jewish Congress’ threats of unpleasant consequences for all Austrians in case Kurt Waldheim were elected the country’s president.)

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On coming to terms with Nazi crimes

"How can we pass on our knowledge of National Socialism and fascism in its most excessive and cruel form as manifested in the destruction of the Jews? How do we describe the indescribable to someone who was lucky enough to be spared, to someone who was not in Europe at that time, to a young person born after the war?
It was not possible to do so directly by presenting documents or accounts of personal experience; especially young people soon became bored with all the horror.
In 1944, even Eichmann declared, ”100 dead are a catastrophe; 1,000,000 dead are merely  statistics” – and he was right.  People are only capable of identifying with the fate of individuals or of a small group, but not with an unimaginable statistical number.
The great significance of The Diary of Anne Frank lies in the fact that here a child, representing millions of murdered children, depicts its personal fate.  The events occur within the realm of the comprehensible, within familiar dimensions."

(Speech given at the presentation of the film "The Gardens of the Finzi Contini", in Basel, Switzerland, January 11, 1981. Trans. from German.)

"The children of Nazi victims and the children of the Nazi perpetrators live side by side in Germany and Austria; they have no choice but to coexist. How can we find a way of living together so that we will never again have a generation growing up either as victims or as perpetrators?  I believe that there is no other solution than to look closely at the past, over and over again, and to learn from it.
We also have inhuman dictatorships today, whose violations of human rights must be denounced. We see first signs of fascism, about which we may not remain silent. And there is anti-Semitism, which needs to be stigmatized.
We must tell people how our generation underestimated Hitler and National Socialism, and how our belief in progress, in culture, in justice, and in friendship suddenly became worthless. Our generation was too heedless of the beginnings; we watched silently while fascistic political parties emerged in the countries Hitler was planning to attack and while majorities were stirred up against minorities and people were thus distracted from the imminent danger."

(Paper presented at the symposium "Surviving the Shoah" in Vienna’s city hall, November 1997. Trans. from German.)

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On Hitler’s Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer

"About ten years ago I had several conversations with Albert Speer....  It had always interested me how such an ingenious man could serve such a criminal.  And he told me: “I was a young architect and all of a sudden I saw before me the chance to do something big. So I joined the [Nazi] party, was promoted from one position to the next, and then I lost all control…. I recognized quite late that the man [Hitler] wanted to pull the entire nation down with him in his demise”…:  Speer admitted more at Nuremberg than he was charged with. I said to him, “I was at your trial, I saw your defense counsel’s despair when you suddenly said you wanted to account not only for yourself and what you had done, but also for the actions of the government of which you had been a member. Without this testimony, you would have gotten ten years at the time; however, if everything we now know from available documents and other sources, had already been disclosed then, you would have been sentenced for life or even to death.  But,” I told him, “our legal system would be absolutely meaningless, if someone who admitted his guilt and served his sentence were not allowed to make a new beginning.  For me, Mr. Speer, you are a new-born baby.”"

(Lecture at the Technical University of Vienna, June 1988. Trans. from German.)


…and on Speer’s book, Infiltration. The SS and German Armament

"I have now finished reading your book. From a historical point of view, I consider it the most important book you have so far published.  You describe in detail the interference of the SS in the concerns of your ministry, but this does not seem so very important to me… because conflicts of competence exist in democracies as well. 
What stands out as most significant is part four of your book.  Here you describe precisely, vividly, and convincingly the ideas and plans of Hitler, Himmler, and Bormann regarding the future balance of world power and how, even in the middle of the war, they set up the substructures for the realization of their plans once they had won the war. These measures were to facilitate a smooth transition toward a Europe comprised of masters and slaves, whereby the bulk of the population of defeated Europe would, of course, consist of slaves. A gigantic host of  subjugated people – altogether around 15 million – was to vegetate, the remainder would be allowed to live as second-rate subjects without a will of their own. To have these facts shown so plainly is important especially for those who still regret the downfall of the Third Reich and who try to come up with positive aspects of National Socialism…  I know many former Nazis who in a sort of self-narcosis try to convince themselves and others that the crimes during that period – the gassings, the enslavement, the extermination operations – were merely a result of the war and that all of these actions would have ceased after the war, and the situation would have changed immediately and automatically.
For these people, your book should be prescribed reading; it could serve as a medicine that would finally make them take an honest look at reality.
For young people, however, your book can supply the evidence that National Socialism as planned and shaped by its rulers, Hitler, Himmler, and Bormann, is synonymous with crime and destruction.
Many a historian, too, who still believes that Hitler knew nothing about all the crimes (because no written orders signed by Hitler for their execution could ever be found) – will be led to realize that the opposite is true by your book, which brings forward 100% proof that all the ventures of Bormann as well as of Himmler were backed by orders or agreements with Hitler.  For all those who try to whitewash Hitler your book is a resounding slap in the face."

(In a letter to Albert Speer, June 2, 1981. Trans. from the German.)

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On Kurt Waldheim

"When I declared that no one could be accused without evidence, I was promptly asked, why I was defending Waldheim…. I don’t intend to change the way I have conducted my work for 40 years. No accusations without evidence. Otherwise we will find that people no longer believe us, they will not believe what the criminals - the real criminals – did to us."

(In a letter to an acquaintance in the U.S.A., 1986.)

"Even in one of his first public comments about his term in the German military, Waldheim said that he only “did his duty”. This assertion is reminiscent of the dualism of Austrian politicians at the time of the Allied occupation:  when abroad they said, ‘The Austrian soldier was pressed into the Prussian army boot.” That was the “export” version. At home in Austria (especially before elections) they used the version: “We defended our homeland” – even though the soldiers had fought in Stalingrad, Crete, or Norway – as though Austria had been in a state of war with all these countries. This “fulfilment of duty”, as Waldheim expressed it, caused infuriation among Jews both in Austria and abroad. Later corrections missed their target; the damage had already been done."

("Waldheims Wahl und die Folgen", in Der Ausweg, June 1986, p. 2. Trans. from the German.)

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On populism

"It was our mistake to think that a people who loved Goethe and Schiller would never elect Hitler. But Hitler always had a ready answer for every problem: “the treaty of Versailles was to blame, democracy was to blame, the Jews were to blame”. Since then I am allergic to all forms of populism."

(Paper presented at the symposium, "Surviving the Shoah", in Vienna’s City Hall, November 1997. Trans. from  German.)

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On human rights

"Having learned the hard way, we survivors now react like seismographs to the slightest vibrations related to human rights violations. We also respond to occurrences taking place on other continents, thousands of kilometers away from us, because we believe that we convey to the whole world the conclusions to be drawn from our knowledge and our experiences.. Thus we have taken and are still taking a stance on human rights violations in Europe, especially in the Eastern bloc countries, in Chile, or in Iran and identify with the oppressed and enslaved, with those who have been incarcerated for their basic convictions."

(Paper presented at the Congress of the U.I.R.D., the International Union of Resistance and Deportee Movements, in Copenhagen, Denmark, August 27, 1978. Trans. from the German.)

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On genocide and persecution

"The persecution of the Gypsies, their oppression and the intolerance and contempt they have been faced with did not end with the fall of the Third Reich.
It is shameful and beneath the dignity of  a democratic country that Gypsies who survived the inferno of the concentration camps have not yet received financial compensation for their sufferings…."

(Paper presented at the 3rd World Congress of Sinti and Romanies in Göttingen, Germany, May 1981. Trans. from the German.)


"The Nuremberg Laws, known as the “laws for the protection of German blood”, referred equally to Gypsies and Jews. Sexual intercourse with a Gypsy, too, was “racial defilement”, and mixed marriages between Gypsies and non-Gypsies were equally prohibited.  After 1936, on the model of the offices for the registration of Jews, there was also an office for the registration of Gypsies.  Its records served Himmler in 1938 as the basis of his so-called ‘Gypsy decree’, in which he ruled that all Gypsies living on German Reich territory (hence also in Austria) were to be deported to the east - for the sole purpose of extermination…."

"The tragedy of the Gypsies has never really sunk into public awareness. This was probably largely due to the fact that these dark-skinned people, who came to Europe from the depths of India, continued to be the object of old prejudices and discrimination even after the war. Administrative and police authorities, especially in West Germany, continued to view them as “chicken thieves”, so that it seemed quite natural for Hitler to have had them locked up.
They were never regarded as racially persecuted, as the Jews were, but as … “asocial elements” who in the Third Reich had simply been accommodated in concentration camps instead of workhouses.
Because of this attitude, the Gypsies were initially refused any kind of restitution. It took years before at least some of them were put on an equal footing with other victims. Many of them did not live to see this."

(In Justice Not Vengeance, 1989. pp. 219, 220.)


" Only a few decades after the discovery of America by Columbus, the Indian population of the entire area of the Caribbean Sea was destroyed. And then hand in hand with the progress of the conquest of the American continent – mainly by the Spanish – this wave of destruction continued and spanned the entire continent. Although so much has been written about the discovery of the “New World”, the facts are that the discoverers brought with them their fundamental cruelty, lack of humanity, and joy of murder from the “Old World” in the process – including the Inquisition, which was the pioneer force and model that led towards the later “final solution”.
The Indians can look back on five hundred years of persecution. What is described in educational books as “embracing of the Indians into the bosom of Christianity” was not at all conversion to Christianity. The Indians were in no way convinced to embrace the religion of Jesus. They were tortured and murdered in every possible way, and their culture was wiped out. This was genocide, and it continued across hundreds of years. In our days, too, Indians are still exposed to persecution."

(In Israel W. Charny (Ed.).  Encyclopedia of Genocide, Vol. II. Jerusalem, 1999, p. 435.)


"Your Excellency:
In Nazi concentration camps, I was confined together with several members of  Jehova’s Witnesses. Having come to know these industrious, honest people who steadfastly remain true to their beliefs, I cannot but feel committed to them.
I received information that members of this religious body are being discriminated in your country. I am unable to check this information out, as unfortunately I know very little about your country. Should my information be correct, however, I appeal to you, Your Excellency, to put an end to this discrimination, for the sake of humanity and the dignity of man.. I am sure that you would thereby render your country a good service.
On the other hand, should my information be wrong, I beg you to dispose of this rumor by a firm declaration that reaches many people all over the world."

(Letter to the President of Malawi, 1976.)


"As a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust who lost 89 members of my family, I have spent my entire life remembering and reminding the world of the consequences of indifference and silence....
I urge you, Mr. President, to do something for the people of Bosnia, to engage yourself actively in finding a solution to a great human tragedy that finds innocent civilians in concentration camps and women and children being raped and murdered daily with no end in sight....
I remember the many lonely nights in the concentration camps wondering, is there anyone out there who knows, who cares, is there anyone out there prepared to do something. I am sure those are the thoughts conjured up in the hearts and minds of the thousands of innocent civilians caught up in this quagmire in Bosnia and Herzegovina."

(Letter to U.S. President George Bush, December 11, 1992)


"The events in Bosnia, as the media portray them for us today, with all their crimes against humanity – the ethnic cleansing, the slaughtering of civilians regardless of age, the rape of Muslim women – while they do not constitute a Holocaust, repeat many of its horrors…. I believe that the condemnation of Karadzic and Mladic – verbal, at first – and the threat to put them before a tribunal would prove effective. The United States could, hopefully, put an end to the deeds of these two men and their soldiers by publicly announcing that the crimes they committed will not remain unpunished."

(Letter to U.S. President Bill Clinton, July 19, 1995)

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On the International Court of Justice in The Hague

"When reports about the crimes being committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina repeatedly named Karadcic and Mladic as those responsible, it was immediately clear to me that, just as the Nazi criminals after the end of World War II, these two individuals must be made to account for themselves. The installation of the International Court of Justice in The Hague was an important and appropriate institution of the United Nations."

(Acceptance speech for the honorary doctorate by the University of Sarajevo, in Vienna, October 17, 1996. Trans. from German.)

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On responsibility as a survivor

"Survival is a privilege which entails obligations .... The answer I have found for myself (and which need not necessarily be the answer for every survivor) is: I want to be the mouthpiece of those who did not survive, I want to keep their memory alive, to make sure the dead live on in that memory."

(In Justice Not Vengeance, 1989, p. 411.)

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On resistance

"The obligation to engage in resistance begins when people begin to be harmed by violations of their rights. If resistance is offered from the very beginning, then there need be no heroic fight later on, because those who violate human rights are always in the minority and they must be shown the limits of their power in good time before it is too late….
Armed resistance is a last resort…. Resistance can also take the form of dissociation, rejection, and protest. The late German attorney general, Fritz Bauer, said: “Resistance means the fight for human rights, for freedom and for equality, it means contention with the state when it violates or withholds basic rights. The right of resistance and the duty to resist are concepts of law…. They have always been a focal point of societal thought and action and can therefore be traced through the history of mankind.”….
Passive resistance toward felonious laws, orders, and actions on the part of a state are the right and the duty of each individual. Aid for and solidarity with people fighting for their rights in a dictatorship is the obligation of those who are lucky enough to be able to live in freedom in a democracy."

(Paper presented at the Congress of the U.I.R.D. (International Union of Resistance and Deportee Movements) in Copenhagen, Denmark, August 27, 1978. Trans. from  German.)

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On Austrian domestic policies

"In 1966 I compiled a dossier about the situation of prosecuting Nazi criminals in Austria, and ascertained the absolute necessity for more police officials and specialized prosecutors to deal with this.  My documentation covered 30 pages and presented evidence that the population of Austria had made up 8.5% of the entire population of the German Reich, whereas the number of Austrians in top positions in the SS who had been directly connected with the crimes – as commanders of the concentration and extermination camps, for example, or within the anti-Jewish administration – was several times that percentage. I presented this dossier to Dr. Josef Klaus, who was then the Austrian Chancellor, and was told that both the Minister for Justice and the Minister for Internal Affairs, would be sent a copy and asked to send me their replies. I never received an answer."

(Podium discussion on “The Punishment of Nazi Crimes of Violence in Austria, 1945-1997, Vienna City Hall, February 26, 1997. Trans. from German.)

"From about 1970, there was growing vexation over Austria in both the United States and in Israel– for the following reasons:

- four of the  eleven ministers in Chancellor Bruno Kreisky’s first administration were former members of the Nazi party;
- Kreisky attacked and threatened to close the Documentation Center, which resulted in a storm of protests from throughout the world;
-  legal proceedings against several hundred suspects accused of murder and/or aiding and abetting murder were dismissed by Austrian courts in the years 1971/72;
- in six of the only eight trials held during the 13 years of the Kreisky administration after 1970, the sentences were ones of acquittal, including, for example, exoneration for the two constructors of the Auschwitz gas chambers,  both SS leaders in the Zentralbauleitung, the central construction office in Auschwitz:
- Friedrich Peter, who had served as Obersturmführer in an SS unit involved in mass murder, came close to becoming Vice-Chancellor of the Republic of Austria and later one of the presidents of the Austrian parliament;
- in addition, there was Kreisky’s friendship with Arafat and Gaddafi, his remarks about Arab terror and Israel, his attacks against Menachim Begin, and so on.

All of that was imputed to Austria, because its head of government, Chancellor Kreisky, had made the above mentioned proclamations publicly and had at least shared responsibility for the political and judicial situations."

(“Waldheims Wahl und die Folgen” in Der Ausweg, June 1986, p. 2. Trans. from German.)

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