SIMON WIESENTHAL: WE WILL NEVER FORGET HIM
By Grattan Puxon
It was a strange, almost sinister experience, visiting Simon Wiesenthal in his well-guarded Vienna office, some 25 years ago. Closed-circuit television cameras, not so common then, watched my approach up a bare flight of stairs from the steel re-enforced street door. Wiesenthal, behind his crowded desk, surrounded by bulging files and photographs, gave one the unwelcome impression of a man of cold intensity. The interview was hardly warm yet what flowed from it showed Wiesenthal to be perhaps one of the greatest champions of the forgotten victims of Nazi genocide - the Romani people.
I had done some four years research into Nazi crimes against Roma, and written with Dr Donald Kenrick the book Destiny of Europe's Gypsies. Published in 1972, this included references from Simon Wiesenthal's The Murderers Among Us (1967).
As we sipped coffee together and talked of his then current search for Josef Mengele, I became to get a measure of his profound commitment. The so-called Angel of Death, who had selected Romani child-twins for monsterous medical experiments, was traced a few years later to Brazil.
The least sentimental person I ever met, Wiesenthal uttered one remark which revealed a side of him infrequently seen. "They were forced to play at executions," he said of Romani musicians in Auschwitz. "I can still hear those violins."
It was not difficult after that to prevail upon this very busy man, a workaholic in the cause he single-mindedly served, to participate in the 3rd World Romani Congress, held in Gottingen in l981. By leading the seminar of the Romani war crimes commission, Wiesenthal added his considerable authority to what then was still a little recognised issue.
However, that was not the end of his intervention. In the mid-1980s, following the opening of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, California, he again lent a hand. Under the auspices of the Wiesenthal Centre, the California Romani Council performed its first war crimes commemoration, chaired by the late John Marino.
Wiesenthal lived long enough, unhappily, to see anti-Roma racism rise again in Europe to levels comparable to those of Nazi Germany in the 1930s. Gypsy pogroms in Romania and Bulgaria, genocide in Kosovo; police and immigration round-ups in western Europe lead to force move-ons and mass deportation.
Roma are again being murdered by fascists in Slovakia and Serbia, and hounded out of Russian cities. In the UK ethnic-cleansing hides behind a smokescreen of planning regulations, driving settled families from their own yards back into an insecure life on the road.
In my own part of England, families have purchased land and built a village. But Dale farm is a community living in fear. A dozen people have died in as many months due the the anxiety engendered by by Basildon council which wants to bulldoze their homes in a five million Euro eviction operation.
One aspect of this settlement would have been familiar to Wiesenthal: the barbed-wire. Only at Dale Farm it has been erected - three kilometres of it around the perimeter - to protect those on the inside from a racially-motivated yet legally-sanctioned attack.
His successors say they will continue to investigate war Nazi crimes and have 380 suspects on their list. Never forgetting Simon Wiesenthal's example, let us root out all those who today promote racial hatred and terror against our people - especially where their deeds are masked behind a veil of law.
For myself these are The Murderers Among Us who need to be exposed.