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Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

Benjamin Samuelson led his sister into a Nazi gas chamber. Martin Twersky survived a torturous ride aboard a Nazi train on which 6,000 Jews died. And Gloria Ungar left Auschwitz weighing just 47 pounds.

In Los Angeles, all three Holocaust survivors joined mourners around the world on Tuesday in saluting Simon Wiesenthal - the Nazi hunter and Jewish leader known as ``the conscience of the Holocaust.''

``He was a great man,'' said Samuelson, 84, of North Hollywood, one of five sonderkommandos - death camp inmates forced to help their captors - to survive the war. ``He was my hero.

``He didn't take revenge; he just brought (Nazi war criminals) to justice.''

Wiesenthal, who committed 60 years of his life to apprehending some 1,100 Nazi war criminals and battling anti-Semitism and prejudice worldwide, died Tuesday in his home in Vienna. He was 96.

At the West Los Angeles center that bears Wiesenthal's name, mourners gathered during a morning drizzle to pay solemn tribute.

``Simon Wiesenthal: He was the conscience of the Holocaust,'' Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said during a news conference by a photo tableau of the green-eyed sleuth.

``He was a man who had every reason to exit from mankind: 89 members of his family were killed. When his mother was called to the cattle car, he ran after the train just to say goodbye, but he could not.

``He kept (knowledge of the Holocaust) alive all these years. He did it by himself - an effort that changed the world.''

When the Cold War eclipsed interest in pursuing former Nazis, Wiesenthal tracked down Adolf Eichmann, chief architect of the murderous Final Solution or Jewish genocide, who had escaped to Argentina.

When not even fellow Holocaust survivors could approve of the hunt, he chased down Franz Stangl, commandant of the death camp Treblinka, in Brazil.

And when a neo-Nazi skeptic challenged him to find the Nazi who arrested Anne Frank, he hunted down Dutch resident Karl Silberbauer two years later.

It was an emaciated Wiesenthal, weighing but 99 pounds when he was liberated from a death camp, who trudged up four flights of stairs to arrest an SS officer near Munich; he was so weak his prisoner had to carry him down.

``Only when it is known that genocide will be punished will it be wiped out,'' Wiesenthal once said. ``Future murderers must know there will be future Wiesenthals.''

For Samuelson, who uses a pseudonym, the pain of the Holocaust went unuttered for a half-century until he wrote his memoir, ``Abiding Hope: Bearing Witness to the Holocaust,'' two years ago.

He was an 18-year-old Romanian Jew at Auschwitz when he led a tear-streaked mass of children to their death. In the throng he saw an 11-year-old girl, her eyes red and swollen - his sister.

``How can I close my eyes? When you see your 11-year-old sister going to the gas chamber, something is missing in you forever.''

Twersky, a native of Poland, was 25 at the close of World War II when fleeing Auschwitz guards herded 6,500 prisoners into open railroad cars for a four-month winter journey across Europe. Only 500 survived.

``It's been bothering me for 60 years; the question is, Why?'' said Twersky, 85, of West Hills. ``I went through hell, and I went through paradise. Hell was the war years; paradise is the United States.''

Ungar, who bears witness at the Museum of Tolerance, rolls up her sleeve to show her Auschwitz tattoo. When Allies found the gaunt 14-year-old in a cattle car in Denmark, they carried her out on a stretcher.

After the war, when nobody else would shoulder the survivor's cause, Wiesenthal would, she said.

``I feel very sad today because he's gone,'' said Ungar, 75, of Los Angeles, matriarch for 32 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. ``He was the only one who went after the Nazis. The rest of the world wanted to just forget about us.

``He was our hero.''

Dana Bartholomew, (818) 713-3730



2 photos


(1 -- color) Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, reads a letter from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Tuesday during a spontaneous memorial tribute to Nazi-hunter Wiesenthal, pictured at right.

(2) Martin Twersky, 85, of West Hills, survived a Holocaust death ride through Europe that killed more than 6,000.

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Sep 21, 2005

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