23 May 11 | Chad W. Post

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Jessica LeTourneur on Tom Segev’s Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends, which is available from Doubleday.

We don’t review a ton of nonfiction or biographies or untranslated titles here, but Jessica (who is one of our regular reviewers) was interested in writing about this. Unfortunately, it sounds like she was a bit disappointed . . .

Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legend is a poorly organized book that presents the reader with a disjointed narrative chronicling the life of a supremely caustic, yet also compassionate, man. The title suggests that readers will be presented with a traditional biography, chronologically narrating the private and personal life of an individual who through an accident of birth, or professional merit, has led a noteworthy life. While Simon Wiesenthal certainly falls into the latter category for his admirable and extraordinary work hunting down and legally prosecuting Nazi collaborators and Nazis alike, this book fails to do any real justice to Wiesenthal through its mediocre prose, confusing and awkward organization and narrative progression, and unnecessarily and overly long tangents which litter the text.

Simon Wiesenthal’s life story is well known to many the world over. Born in Austria in 1908, Wiesenthal spent four and a half years in Nazi concentration camps. On February 15, 1945 he was liberated from the concentration camp Mauthausen, and from that day forward vowed to devote his life to bringing Nazi criminals to justice for this horrific crimes they committed against Jews during the Holocaust. Wiesenthal succeeded in locating hundreds of Nazis in hiding, most of whom fled to South America and the United States in order to avoid prosecution for their crimes. Popular public memory of Wiesenthal by and large remembers him as an altruistic hero whose own Holocaust experiences drove him to pursue what Segev calls “not for glory or personal vendetta did Wiesenthal hunt Nazi criminals, but for a simple sense of justice.” In Life and Legend, however, Segev analyzes the lesser known, and not altogether likeable aspects of Wiesenthal’s personality, and the creative ways in which Wiesenthal constructed his public persona, and the controversial and contradictory stories that Wiesenthal told about his Holocaust experiences; throughout the book Segev suggests that Wiesenthal exaggerated his life experience to inflate his importance and aggrandize his Holocaust ordeals. Whatever the controversies surrounding Wiesenthal’s life story are, there is no question that his contributions to Holocaust memory—especially in the United States— along with his tireless and arduous work bringing Nazi criminals to justice are profoundly admirable. Unfortunately Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legend fails to do justice to an extraordinary and complex man.

Click here to read the full review.

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