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 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.
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
Previous Post: Vamana’s
Tomorrow: Xenophobic Delights