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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nazi Hunter Wiesenthal Dedicated Life to Justice

VIENNA -- Simon Wiesenthal, the Holocaust survivor who helped track down numerous Nazi war criminals following World War II then spent the later decades of his life fighting anti-Semitism and prejudice against all people, died Tuesday. He was 96.

Wiesenthal died in his sleep at his home in Vienna, according to Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Wiesenthal, who had been an architect before World War II, changed his life's mission after the war, dedicating himself to trying to track down Nazi war criminals and to being a voice for the 6 million Jews who died during the genocide. He himself lost 89 relatives in the Holocaust.

Wiesenthal spent more than 50 years hunting Nazi war criminals, speaking out against neo-Nazism and racism and remembering the Jewish experience as a lesson for humanity. Through his work, he said, some 1,100 Nazi war criminals, including Adolf Eichmann, were brought to justice.

Wiesenthal's quest began after the Americans liberated the Mauthausen death camp in Austria where Wiesenthal was a prisoner in May 1945. It was his fifth death camp among the dozen Nazi camps in which he was imprisoned, and he weighed just 45 kilograms when he was freed. He said he quickly realized that "there is no freedom without justice," and decided to dedicate "a few years" to seeking justice.

"It became decades," he added.

Wiesenthal's life spanned a violent century. He was born on Dec. 31, 1908, to Jewish merchants in Buczacs, a small town near the present-day Ukrainian city of Lviv in what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire. He studied in Prague and Warsaw and in 1932 received a degree in civil engineering.

He apprenticed as a building engineer in Russia before returning to Lviv to open an architectural office. Then the Russians and the Germans occupied the city and the terror began.

After the war ended, working first with the Americans and later from a Vienna apartment packed floor to ceiling with documents, Wiesenthal tirelessly pursued fugitive Nazi war criminals.

"The most important thing I have done is to fight against forgetting and to keep remembrance alive," he said in a 1999 interview. "It is very important to let people know that our enemies are not forgotten."