Known throughout the world as the "great Nazi hunter" and the "conscience of the Holocaust," Simon Wiesenthal was also a prisoner of the Nazi concentration camps who turned that trauma into his life's mission: the documenting and tracking of Nazi war criminals. In his lifetime, Wiesenthal's tireless efforts would lead to the capture of over 1100 Nazi war...read more
Known throughout the world as the "great Nazi hunter" and the "conscience of the Holocaust," Simon Wiesenthal was also a prisoner of the Nazi concentration camps who turned that trauma into his life's mission: the documenting and tracking of Nazi war criminals. In his lifetime, Wiesenthal's tireless efforts would lead to the capture of over 1100 Nazi war criminals and the founding of the research center that still bears his name. This surprisingly lively biography from Academy Award-winning filmmaker Richard Trank (THE LONG WAY HOME) traces the Wiesenthal's career from his childhood in Galicia, a region of Austria that is now part of the Ukraine, as the son of a sugar manufacturer who fought and died for the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I. Wiesenthal married his high-school sweetheart, Cyla Mueller, and began his adult life as an architect, but his career was abruptly cut short by the Nazi invasion. Wiesenthal and Cyla, along with Wiesenthal's elderly mother, were moved into the Jewish ghetto of Lvov until their deportation to a forced labor camp. After the Final Solution had been formulated at the infamous Wannsee Conference, Wiesenthal's mother would be among those to die at the concentration camp at Belzec. Cyla, however, managed to escape to Warsaw where she survived, thanks to false papers identifying her as a non-Jew. Wiesenthal wasn't so lucky: After three suicide attempts, he would spend the next five years moving from one camp to another, including Auschwitz, until the Allied liberation of Mauthausen in May, 1945. Weighing less than 100 pounds and barely alive, Wiesenthal found a reason to live in helping the Allies, first by compiling a list of Nazi war criminals he personally knew of, then collecting data about others from those survivors he met at the displaced persons camps that sprung up around Europe. This information proved invaluable to the War Crimes Office, but after the closing of the Nuremberg War Tribunals, many felt the chapter had been closed and the real threat came from the Soviet present, not the Nazi past. Undeterred, Wiesenthal and a team of 30 volunteers opened their own documentation office and began collecting dossiers on Nazis still at large, including details pertaining to the whereabouts of the infamous Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer widely regarded as the "architect" of the Final solution. The realities of the Cold War, however, and the need to make a living to support his family made Weisenthal's effort too much to sustain. Turning his documents over to the Israelis, he began a new career as a teacher, but Wiesenthal never let go of the Eichmann file, and when Wiesenthal found out that the former Nazi, his wife and their sons were mostly likely living freely in Argentina, he ascertained their exact whereabouts and arrange for Eichmann's arrest by Israeli agents of the Mossad. As Eichmann was secreted back to Jerusalem where he would stand trial for war crimes, Wiesenthal quickly became known as "The Man who Caught Eichmann." This high-profile success meant contributions from organizations around the world (although Wiesenthal was far less popular in the Nazi-infested Austria, where he was now living), and Wiesenthal was able to reopen his documentation office and continue his research into war crimes, war criminals and their whereabouts in Europe, South America and, shockingly a the time, the United States.
Wiesenthal, who died in 2005 at the age of 97, appears mostly through past interviews conducted by British and U.S. television, and his videotaped testimony archived as part of the USC Shoah Foundation. He comes across as a fascinating man who combined a sense of moral purpose with enormous humanity and humor; the recounting of his tireless pursuits are as gripping as any thriller, particularly the details of the Eichmann case, which depended as much on coincidence as it did on ingenuity, seduction and espionage worthy of Eric Ambler. Soberly narrated by Nicole Kidman, the film does however feature an unrelenting musical score that is as cloying as it is unnecessary.
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