Commitment. Dedication. Willingness. Devotion. Mission. There are millions of people who have no idea what that means. There are millions of people who don’t understand these virtues and don’t even want to. Unfortunately, there are even those who hate people with such qualities.
And then there’s this one man whose commitment, dedication, willingness, devotion, and sense of mission have been so remarkable it’s just honorable and worth every bit of gratitude of the human kind. This man is Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem Office, and, mostly known as the Center’s chief nazi hunter.
It was back in 2001, I think, when I first had the pleasure to make his acquaintance. My employer, Estonian Daily Newspaper (Eesti Päevaleht) had just published an article titled “Nazi hunter accuses the Estonian nation of murders.” I, as the head of the newspaper’s online department, wanted to have an online interview with this nazi hunter mentioned in the title. (Online interview is a type of interview where readers ask the questions, not journalists.) So I emailed him and he gladly agreed.
The online interview was a great success. If I remember correctly, it was one of the most successful online interviews ever for the newspaper—hundreds of questions by readers, very interesting answers by Efraim and hundreds of thousands of readers. The powers of online journalism.
That interview got me profoundly interested in the Holocaust and Efraim’s mission of finding the nazi war criminals who had still gone unpunished. Hundreds of mass murderers, who, despite the fact that 55 years had passed, hadn’t still faced justice for the horrid crimes they committed.
The work Efraim Zuroff was and is doing is really remarkable. All the effort he puts in to achieving justice just appealed to me and I quite quickly came to a conclusion that it’s every human being’s duty to try and help such a cause—to bring those people, those murderers and horrible individuals to justice.
From that on, I tried to help him and his cause. It goes without saying that, considering the Estonians’ feelings towards the nazi perpetrators, he was one of the most hated people in Estonia, but I didn’t care. I helped him out with whatever he needed with delight. I knew his work was incredibly important, and I wanted to help. I couldn’t stand the fact that those horrible criminals who murdered people during the Holocaust could escape justice—and I still can’t. This is the one matter you cannot argue on with me. Nothing justifies their actions.
Over the course of years we became good friends. We helped out each other in our work, me doing whatever I could to help him, and he helping me with my journalist work regarding Israel. He even invited me to his daughter’s wedding in Israel, a huge honor for me and an incredibly lovely gesture.
Now, in 2010, he published a book on the operation to catch the remaining nazi war criminals, “Operation: Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice.” It’s one of the best books I’ve read recently.
During the course of years I’ve known Efraim, I have learned quite a lot about his work and the many hardships he has encountered during the hunt, especially in Estonia and the Baltics. But I kept my eyes and ears open also for other developments all over the world. However, tell you the truth, without this book I would have never realized the scope of the efforts, the excitement, the amount of work, travel, the heartache, and devotion. This book says it all.
I envy Efraim, I really do. His work has been incredibly interesting and exciting. With all its setbacks, sleepless nights, victories, and losses. Had I only been born 30 years earlier…
“Operation: Last Chance” is exactly what its subtitle says, “One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice.” Aribert Heim, Harry Mannil, Milivoj Ašner, Sandor Kepiro, Evald Mikson… these are only a few of the people who committed horrid crimes during the Holocaust and went unpunished and even unprosecuted (Sandor Kepiro was prosecuted, though, but didn’t serve his sentence). And Efraim Zuroff was the man who went after them and many others. Facing the reluctance of many countries and governments to prosecute those war criminals, those murderers, he didn’t give up. He pursued and is still pursuing his goal, to make justice happen. It’s an incredible ungrateful effort that actually deserves all the gratitude possible. This selfless effort for all those six million people who died in the Holocaust, and the few who survived this biggest mass murder in the history of the human kind—it’s extraordinary.
Simon Wiesenthal once said that he became a nazi hunter because, when in the other world, if asked by the Holocaust victims of what did he do after surviving the Shoah, he could say, “I did not forget you.” I’m sure that no one in the next world actually asked him that, because everyone knew of his efforts.
I think everyone should read this book. Even if you’re not interested in history and/or the Holocaust. Because, this book is about righteousness. This book is about not forgetting the victims of this great injustice, this mass murder of six million innocent people; this book is about the fight for their memories, this book is the fight for making sure that nothing like this would never ever happen again.