Do you feel you can’t make a difference in this world because you’re just one person?
If so, I’d like to tell you about famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal who recently passed away at 96. Wiesenthal helped track down 1100 Nazis for prosecution for their roles in the Holocaust.
I’ll describe what made him so effective in five short-stories. Then I’ll tell you how you could make a difference as well.
Short-Story No. 1: In 1932, Wiesenthal got a degree in architectural engineering and became an architect in Lvov, in Poland. Four years later, he married his high school sweetheart Cyla Mueller.
The couple thrived until 1939, when the Soviet Union captured Lvov, and Wiesenthal was forced to close his ‘bourgeois’ (upper crust) firm. He then took whatever work he could find.
Short-Story No. 2: On June 22, 1941 the Nazis seized part of Soviet occupied Poland and quickly massacred 6,000 Jews. In Lvov, on July 6th, Wiesenthal was among the Jewish people lined up to be shot. As gunfire exploded in a thunderous echo, one by one each person met a violent death.
As Wiesenthal’s turn approached, church bells chimed. When the executioner heard them, he set his gun down for the bells signaled evening Mass and he left to pray. Wiesenthal’s life was saved and he was sent to the first of 12 concentration camps he would endure.
Short-Story No. 3: Wiesenthal’s final concentration camp was Mauthausen. He and 2,000 others went by train on the six day journey without food or water. Everyone was packed so tightly, they had to stand and 800 people died on the way. Because there was no room for their bodies to fall, most of the dead remained upright.
On May 5, 1945 when the U.S. military liberated the camp, they were deeply moved as they saw skeletal people clinging to life. Wiesenthal was one of them, weighing just 90-plus pounds. They also saw the gas chambers, the piles of rotting corpses of men, women and children awaiting the crematoriums and the rest of the depravity and stench that was Mauthausen.
Short-Story No. 4: As Wiesenthal began to recover, he sent a letter to an attorney asking for help in locating his wife’s body. Remarkably, right after receiving that letter, the attorney was visited by a woman looking for her husband. That woman was Cyla Wiesenthal.
The Wiesenthals had been apart for over three years while he was in concentration camps and she was doing forced labor in Germany.
Joyously, the couple reunited. But none of their European family survived and they started their family anew with the birth of their daughter Paulinka in September, 1946. She would later marry an attorney in Israel and give her parents three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Cyla and Simon Wiesenthal celebrated 67 years of marriage before her passing in 2003.
Short-Story No. 5: Cyla wanted Simon to become an architect again but he declined. In his heart, he fervently believed he had to do something for the Holocaust victims and their families and he opened an office in 1946 in Linz (Austria) and in 1961, reopened it in Vienna.
To Wiesenthal the Holocaust was the six million Jews who were killed but it was also the millions of Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, communists and other enemies of the state the Nazis and their sympathizers had executed.
Over the years, he developed a vast network of survivors, government officials, media and even ex-Nazis with a grudge against other ex-Nazis. He used this network to share information and to encourage nations around the world to pursue and prosecute the perpetrators.
Wiesenthal viewed the Holocaust as a “living event” and during the Cold War years from the late 1940’s when top German scientists, some of whom were former Nazi supporters, were recruited by the U.S. and Soviet Union, he was there to clarify what these scientists had done.
As the years passed and world attention went elsewhere, he was a highly visible conscience and ex-Nazis found him to be relentless. “When history looks back,” Wiesenthal said, “I want people to know the Nazis weren’t able to kill millions of people and get away with it.”
Wiesenthal was just one man but his cause was so compelling, that people volunteered to help him and others welcomed his support and prosecuted the perpetrators. To the best of his ability, he saw to it that 1100 of those perpetrators were held accountable.
Success Tip of the Week:As Simon Wiesenthal did, select a cause you strongly believe in then dedicate some time to it. The cause doesn’t have to be an earth shaker, just one that matters to you. With each act of your generosity, with each bit of progress, you’ll discover that you really can make a difference.
In the next KazanToday, In 1928 Charlie Merrill, co-founder of Merrill Lynch anticipated a Stock Market Crash but few people listened to him until it was too late. This story will offer us a valuable financial lesson we can apply today.