Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal's demand for justice was loud and persistent. For more than 50 years, he diligently gathered information about war criminals who had tried to rebuild their lives in quiet corners of the world. He peppered governments with documents. He prodded the conscience of nations.
However, he had only minimal success in bringing war criminals to justice, especially in Canada, prominent figures involved in the pursuit of Nazi war criminals said yesterday after his death in Vienna at 96.
Mr. Wiesenthal decided in 1977 that he would never step back into Canada. And he didn't. He felt the Canadian government did not have the political will to pursue Nazi war criminals who had settled in the country, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, a co-founder of the Los-Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
"He made a political calculation of what the political terrain was like, and said, at one point, 'the Canadians are wonderful people and I respect Canada as a democracy, but why should I keep coming back for the kind of confrontation that is not going to yield the appropriate results,' " Rabbi Cooper said.
Sol Littman, who was part of efforts to have the Canadian government pursue war criminals in the country in the 1980s and 1990s, said Mr. Wiesenthal accomplished much less than he had hoped.
"We had very limited success, not only in Canada," he said, adding that the Nazi hunters had "virtually no success" for several years in several countries.
"You have to understand that Nazi hunting is not a game. No one is standing around in a trench coat under a lamp post with a spy glass watching people. It is largely a question of finding documentation and witnesses and then providing them to the proper government so there can be justice and due process."
Mr. Wiesenthal's files prove invaluable to governments that are prepared to act, but the files by themselves do not lead to results, Mr. Littman said.
Nevertheless, he said, if Mr. Wiesenthal had not been a presence in the world, Canada would never have done anything on Nazi war criminals.
Mr. Littman, a former CBC reporter, recalled seeking Mr. Wiesenthal's help in tracking down Nazis in Canada: "I discovered he was a pretty crusty old guy, a real curmudgeon.
"He did not want anything to do with Canadian reporters. He felt the Canadian government was not interested in doing anything on Nazi war criminals and he did not see any reason why he should cater to people," Mr. Littman said.
The most recent international survey on Nazi war criminals, released this spring, gives Canada a mark of C for its efforts. Canada has had minimal success, and additional steps are urgently needed, the survey by the Wiesenthal Center concluded.
Canada initially had a special law to enable criminal prosecutions in the country, but after four cases failed, the government switched to a policy of denaturalization and deportation.
The federal cabinet is weighing whether to revoke the citizenship of five people linked to crimes against humanity during the Second World War. The Federal Court ruled that they lied in their citizenship applications when they came to Canada.
Worldwide, 15 countries are investigating 1,218 Nazi war criminals, the annual survey found. Thousands have never been pursued.
Mr. Wiesenthal started his lifelong work as a Nazi hunter in the days after he was liberated from Mauthausen concentration camp on May 5, 1945. He began gathering evidence of atrocities for the war-crimes section of the U.S. Army.
When his ties with the U.S. Army ended in 1947, he opened the Jewish Historical Documentation Centre in Linz, Austria. However, neither the United States nor the Soviet Union were interested in prosecuting Germans during the early years of the Cold War.
Mr. Wiesenthal closed the Linz office in 1954 and sent all but one file to Israel. He kept the documentation on Adolf Eichmann, who had supervised implementation of the Nazi program to annihilate the Jewish population of Europe. Eichmann was captured in Argentina years later and brought to Israel, where he was tried and found guilty of mass murder in 1961.
Encouraged by Eichmann's conviction, Mr. Wiesenthal opened the Jewish Documentation Centre in Vienna, 90 metres from where the Gestapo headquarters had been in the Second World War.
One of his early successes was locating Gestapo officer Karl Silberbauer, who arrested Anne Frank, the 14-year-old girl killed by the Nazis after hiding in an Amsterdam attic for two years. He also found nine Nazi officers in 1966 who participated in the extermination of Jews in Lvov, Ukraine, his hometown. Throughout his career, he once said, he tracked down 1,100 Nazi war criminals.
Mr. Littman said that Mr. Wiesenthal had little support from governments or Jewish communities when he started looking for Nazis. The Jewish communities at first feared where his investigation would lead, feeling it best not to be too prominent in case it drew the ire of people who don't like Jews.
Rabbi Cooper said that Mr. Wiesenthal was the ambassador of six million Jewish souls who were killed by the Nazis. He praised the Nazi hunter for choosing justice over vengeance.
"He felt each trial and each conviction would be a lesson to a younger generation and future generation of potential murderers who would be looking on to see what, if anything, society is prepared to do to those who perpetuate the crime of genocide," he said.
Mr. Wiesenthal outlived most of the perpetuators, Rabbi Cooper said, and he lived long enough to see most of the civilized world embrace his vision of dealing with those guilty of crimes against humanity through trials.
Hundreds of thousands of Nazi war criminals escaped justice, he said. But many did not sleep well at night because Mr. Wiesenthal was searching for them.
"This is a man who entered the fray without training, without a political base, with virtually no moral or financial support from the Jewish leaders for decades. But the only reason Nazi war criminals were not sleeping safely at night was because of a few people like him."
Mr. Wiesenthal could have achieved more if he had support and more understanding earlier in his life, he said.