LONDON (Feb. 22)
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II has awarded an honorary knighthood to Simon Wiesenthal, the legendary Nazi-hunter who tracked down more than 1,000 war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann.
“An honorary knighthood is a rare honor for the Queen to bestow, a special award for a very special man,” said John Macgregor, Britain’s ambassador to Austria, where Wiesenthal lives.
Announcing the award on Feb. 19, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw praised Wiesenthal’s “untiring service to the Jewish communities in the U.K. and elsewhere by helping to right at least some of the awful wrongs of the Holocaust.”
“If there is one name which symbolizes this vital coming to terms with the past it is Simon Wiesenthal’s,” Straw said.
Lord Greville Janner, chairman of Britain’s Holocaust Educational Trust, said “no one in this world deserves it more than he.”
Describing Wiesenthal as “one of the great people of this world,” Janner told JTA it is appropriate for Britain to honor him “not least because we have a community here who suffered as a result of the activities of the people he has tracked down.”
The award will be given to Wiesenthal in Vienna later this year.
Wiesenthal, 95, was born in what is now Ukraine and worked as an architect in Lvov before World War II.
But first the Soviets and then the Nazis invaded Poland during the war, and Wiesenthal was sent to a concentration camp.
His wife, Cyla, escaped by posing as a non-Jew.
Both of them survived the war separately — but they lost an estimated 89 members of their families to the Holocaust.
When the war ended, Wiesenthal devoted himself to tracking down the perpetrators of the Final Solution from the Jewish Documentation Center, a simple three-room office in Vienna.
“I am forever asking myself what I can do for those who have not survived,” he wrote in his autobiography, “Justice Not Vengeance.”
His research led to the capture of Eichmann — one of the chief bureaucrats implementing the Nazi Final Solution — by Israeli agents in Argentina in 1960.
Eichmann was tried and hanged.
Wiesenthal also hunted down Karl Silberbauer, the Gestapo officer who arrested Anne Frank, and Franz Strangl, who ran Treblinka.
In honoring Wiesenthal, Straw also praised the Simon Wiesenthal Centers across the United States, Europe and Israel.
Wiesenthal has been honored by numerous countries, including the United States, France and the Czech Republic, whose then-President Vaclav Havel presented him with the country’s highest award, the Order of the White Lion, in 1997.