2005-09-21 14:04:00

Russia’s Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar’s statement on the death of Simon Wiesenthal

The death of Simon Wiesenthal is a sorrowful day for us all. Gone is a man whose life-work was given the highest appraisal time and again by major world statesmen - a man whose life set for all the civilized humanity an example of straight-out struggle for the restoration of justice, a one who has preserved for posterity the history of the greatest disaster of the 20th century and made people remember its lessons.

He was called a ‘Nazi hunter’ and he really chased executioners and murderers to his last breath and took them to court for just punishment. It was not revenge, though Simon Wiesenthal himself went through the horrors of Nazi concentration camps and survived by a miracle, while most of his relatives perished in the Nazi hands. One can take revenge for a year or two, but not for 60 years. It was not ‘hunt’ in the proper sense of the word that became life-work for Wiesenthal, but struggle to make law and justice prevail. He did all that was possible for him to open the eyes of the world so that it could see the truth of the Nazi monstrous crimes. At the same time, he sought to see to it that inevitable punishment for yesterday’s executioners might become a warning for those who devise the crime of genocide today and tomorrow.

Our sages would say, ‘He who is merciful towards cruelty will ultimately commit cruelty towards the merciful’. It was Simon Wiesenthal’s life creed: crimes against humanity cannot have a period of limitation, cannot be put into oblivion and all the more cannot be pardoned, not only for the memory of those who fell, but also because such false ‘mercy’ gives rise to hope for impunity in the minds of future criminals.

Simon Wiesenthal was a good man, but he never was ‘goody-goody’. His goodness lied in the priority need he felt to protect not the ‘rights’ of a criminal, but the right of innocent people to a safe, free and dignified life. I believe it would be the best memory of Simon Wiesenthal to continue the cause to which he devoted his life - to bring still surviving Nazi to justice and to wage an uncompromising struggle for the inevitability of punishment for international terrorists, the ‘21st century Nazi’.

Berel Lazar
Chief Rabbi of Russia
September 21, 2005