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Wiesenthal’s Revenge

Franz Stangl

Dusseldorf, 22 Dec 1970. The court finds a 62-year-old man named Franz Stangl guilty of genocide and sentences him to life imprisonment. As soon as the verdict is passed, another man present in the courtroom takes out his wallet. pulls out a photo of Stangl, tears it up into pieces and throws it into a dustbin before walking out of the room nonchalantly. That man is Simon Wiesenthal.

Wiesenthal is the man who tracked Stangl for about 20 years in order to bring him to justice. He ferreted out more than 1000 Nazi criminals and brought them to justice. With cool determination and total dedication. Why? Wiesenthal was a survivor of the Holocaust. He lost his family members, except his wife, to the Nazi genocide which killed over 6 million Jews with state support. The government becoming a mass murderer is the ultimate degeneration of a nation. When murder is made a virtue by the government, humanity itself dies without a second thought. People become murderers happily. They think killing is their obligation, a holy act. 

Simon Wiesenthal

Franz Stangl was the highest-ranking official of a death camp in West Germany. He ordered the death of 400,000 Jews. At the trial, he said indifferently, “I was only doing my duty.” Yes, he was only doing his duty sanctioned by his government. He killed 400,000 people including innocent children and he thought he was doing his duty. This is what Hannah Arendt later called the banality of evil. Evil becomes banal when it acquires an unthinking and systematic character.

While in prison, Stangl was interviewed by an investigative journalist and historian. Stangl asserted in the interview that his conscience was clear about what he did. The interviewer gave him time to feel what he was saying. Slowly, Stangl accepted that he was suppressing all his guilt feelings and the little goodness that had been there in his heart until he chose to become a mass murderer. “I was there,” he said. “So yes, in reality I share the guilt.” He took some more time. He reflected a moment and then said, “My guilt… my guilt… is that I am still here. That is my guilt.”

He died of heart failure 19 hours after the conclusion of that interview. He died in prison. That was Simon Wiesenthal’s revenge.

Wiesenthal was motivated by revenge in the beginning when he took upon himself the mission of finding out people like Franz Stangl and bringing them to justice. Later, however, he realised that revenge was destructive and futile. He saw his mission as bringing justice to the victims of the Holocaust. He thought it was his obligation towards history. He spent his entire post-war life fulfilling that mission. Wiesenthal died in his sleep at the age of 96 in 2005.

The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles is named in his honour. It is a Jewish human rights organisation known for Holocaust research and remembrance, combating anti-Semitism, tolerance education, and so on. There is something aggressive about this Centre’s defence of Jewish rights. After all, it carries the spirit of Simon Wiesenthal whose primary motive was revenge. But Wiesenthal also showed us that we can sublimate our vindictive feelings by changing the focus from revenge to justice. 

PS. I’m participating in BlogchatterA2Z

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  1. The Holocaust was a time of intense suffering for the Jews who were murdered with impunity. Thank you for writing this post on Wiesenthal. It is such an interesting read!

    1. Wiesenthal showed how we can change our bitterness into a self-healing passion.

  2. Such a grt man Weisenthel is..revenge to justice shift. What a grt lesson..wish many applied it? Also that mention of mindless killing becoming banal painful and true!

    Dropping by from a to z "The Pensive"

    1. That man lived a long life because he had a clear and good vision.

  3. I really liked that last line. This post reminded of The Boy in Striped Pajamas...Bruno's father Ralf.

    1. Vengeance is a common problem today in our country. We are wreaking vengeance even on history. So Wiesenthal can teach us much.

  4. "The government becoming a mass murderer is the ultimate degeneration of a nation" - Can't agree more...

  5. It happened in the past. It happened recently in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. It will happen in the future. History never stopped creating crooks.


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