The Nazi Hunter
Simon Wiesenthal, the man who wouldn't let them get away with it
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage students to consider their role in creating a just society, based on the life of Simon Wiesenthal, who died ten years ago, on 20 September 2005 (SEAL theme: Motivation).
Preparation and materials
- Leader: How do you feel when someone gets away with it?
Reader 1: I wrote the answers to the test on the palm of my hand. I got 95 per cent. I thought it best not to get 100 per cent. It would have been too suspicious.
Reader 2: Do you like this T-shirt? I smuggled it out of the shop in the pocket of my coat.
Reader 3: Nobody knows it was me who sent that text. The phone was lying there and I simply fired it off. It certainly ruined his relationship with his girlfriend.
Leader: There's a part of me that gets really annoyed when someone appears to be getting away with wrongdoing, even when the situation has nothing whatever to do with me. I simply don't like people getting away with doing wrong. Today's assembly is about a man who felt exactly the same, but his response was to do something about it.
- Reader 1: Simon Wiesenthal grew up in Austria and Poland in the period between the First and Second World Wars. Because he and his wife were both ethnically Jewish, they suffered the consequences of the Holocaust, the Nazi plan to exterminate the Jewish people. His wife managed to evade the concentration camps because of her blonde hair, claiming to be Polish, but Simon spent a number of years as a slave labourer. He survived, barely alive, and was eventually reunited with his wife. However, 89 members of their families died.
Reader 2: After the war Simon was employed by the War Crimes Section of the United States Army and spent a number of years helping to bring to justice many of those who'd been responsible for the Holocaust. But, by 1954, both Russia and the United States had lost interest in this work and were more concerned about their mutual suspicion and fear. The Cold War had begun.
- Reader 3: Simon was not so easily put off. He knew there were still many thousands of men and women who'd been actively involved in causing the suffering not only to Jews but also to gypsies and other social outcasts. He formed the Jewish Documentation Centre and, in his spare time, continued the research and analysis, tracking down the guilty across the world. He'd hand the evidence he'd discovered to the authorities. When they failed to act on it, he'd go to the Press and tell the stories. Outraged public opinion often caused the authorities to change their minds.
- Leader: When he was asked what motivated him in his crusade to bring these people to justice, Simon Wiesenthal replied, 'When history looks back, I want people to know the Nazis weren't able to kill millions of people and get away with it.'
- If people are allowed to get away with wrongdoing, it has an effect of the community they live in. First, it causes resentment on the part of those who have been cheated out of what they deserve. For example, there are many sportsmen and women who resent the success of drugs cheats in their events, often denying them the medals and records due to them. Second, it encourages others to do wrong, partially because it seems easy and partially because it seems like the only way to achieve success or to gain possessions. So, if one person shoplifts, others are likely to follow. Finally, it blurs the boundaries about what is acceptable and can lead to an atmosphere of suspicion, even among friends. No one is quite sure who to trust.
- So what can we do about it? It would be very difficult to do what Simon Wiesenthal did, naming and shaming those he believed were guilty. He suffered threats and insults. Once his house was bombed. We'd be opening ourselves up to retaliation and bullying if we openly made accusations. Also we'd risk accusing some people who are actually innocent simply because we misinterpreted a rumour we'd heard. It's not good to gain a reputation as a tell-tale.
Time for reflection
There are, however, other ways to promote truth and justice. First, we can model right behaviour by resisting invitations and opportunities to cheat. It may cause others to think twice about what they're doing. Second, we can confront those who are doing the cheating and the stealing, and destroying relationships.
We can convey our opinion that we don't think it's big, we don't think it's clever and we don't think it helps others. We'd need to be brave and to expect some antagonism, but if we didn't say or do something then the situation would continue.
Finally, if it's really serious, then it's possible to anonymously pass on the information.
(Give details of such procedures within your own school.)
Simon Wiesenthal wasn't interested in gossip. He required hard evidence, real proof. We also must be careful about accusations, and be sure to live lives of truth and justice ourselves.
Thank you for the strong relationships we have with those we trust.
Help us to create a community where that trust extends to everyone.
May we be the best models of trustworthy people.
Leader: Let's end with a song about the big issues of truth and justice in the world.
‘Dear Mr President’ by Pink