5 Things You Should Know About “The Jewish James Bond,” Wiesenthal’s Simon Wiesenthal

Last updated October 27th, 2014 by Josh Ferri
5 Things You Should Know About “The Jewish James Bond,” Wie…

Tom Dugan is the creator and star of the powerful new off-Broadway play Wiesenthal, which tells the true story of international hero Simon Wiesenthal. Known as “the Jewish James Bond,” Wiesenthal dedicated his life to bringing over 1,000 Nazi war criminals to justice after World War II. Below, Dugan shares five fascinating facts everyone should know about this remarkable man.

Simon Wiesenthal Was a Comedian

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Dugan in 'Wiesenthal' and the real-life Wiesenthal.
Photo by Martin Gottlieb

The very first thing that is important to know about Simon Wiesenthal is that before the war he was an amateur stand-up comedian, so he had a great sense of humor. Over the years, he learned that in order to pass on the information about this very dark subject, he had to do it in a palatable way so that people kept wanting to listen. He was a very entertaining person so the show is not a drag; you’ll find yourself laughing more than you ever thought you would. You leave the theatre feeling uplifted.

He Looked to the Future, Not the Past

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Simon Wiesenthal was not a man who lived in the past. He used the past to inform the future. I had the honor of meeting a man in Toronto who met Simon Wiesenthal while he was in college. And this man was eager to work with Simon Wiesenthal, to help him locate these Nazis, and Simon Wiesenthal said, ‘No, I’m doing fine. You don’t want to do this. It’s just old men chasing each other. You deal with the future.’ Simon Wiesenthal was eager to use the lessons learned from the past and educate the future as to how this awful scenario of the Holocaust could be avoided in the future.

Wiesenthal Played by the Rules

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He wasn’t a vigilante, and he was very careful to counsel other Nazi hunters and tell them to not appear like a vigilante because it weakens the cause. Otherwise, society would look and say, ‘He’s just angry because they killed all the Jews and he’s a Jew trying to get revenge.’ And to that end, he wrote in one of his most popular books, ‘justice not vengeance.’ He struggled with this his whole life—what happened to him living in a concentration camp for four years and the death of 89 of his relatives—but he was careful to make sure he went through the legal system. And he caught a lot of flack from organizations (including the Simon Wiesenthal Center by the way) because they wanted him to come out against Kurt Waldheim, who was running to be president of Austria. They wanted Simon to condemn Kurt Waldheim for being a Nazi war criminal and his answer was this, ‘He may have well been a Nazi war criminal, and I suspect he probably was, but there isn’t any proof; and if you go chasing through the streets calling people Nazis without proof, you’re going to look like a fool. And the next time you have someone you have proof about, society won’t listen.’ He wasn’t a vigilante—by the time Simon Wiesenthal pointed at you, they had an iron clad case against you.

Simon Wiesenthal Is Part of the Anne Frank Story

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Did you know if it wasn't for Simon Wiesenthal and his work, you probably would never have heard of Anne Frank? In the 1950s after Anne Frank, the Diary of a Young Girl came out and became so popular, there was a very powerful movement in Germany and Austria that said the book was a fraud and that Anne Frank never existed. Soldiers and Nazi officers living in postwar Europe started to tell their children, ‘Don’t listen to all the stuff they say about us because it’s not true; and Anne Frank was made up by the Jews to get more restitution money from Germany.’ This generation is referred to in the play as ‘the doubting boys in Europe,’ and Wiesenthal had a confrontation with one of these boys in a malt shop. And he said, ‘What would it take for me to convince you that Anne Frank actually existed? If I found the officer who actually arrested her would you believe?’ And the kid said, ‘Yeah but only if he himself admitted to it, I would have to believe.’ Wiesenthal said it was the hardest search he ever had because he had to find an officer who arrested 1 of a million and a half children 14 years ago. But he did find the man, Karl Silberbauer, and the man confessed and that became front-page news throughout the world. Then all these teenagers had to turn around and look at their fathers and say, ‘What other lies did you tell me?’ So if it wasn't for Wiesenthal’s work, Anne Frank would be dismissed as Jewish propaganda.

He Didn’t Actually Kill Hitler

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The fifth and final thing is that Simon Wiesenthal met Mike Tyson. In the ‘80s, the Wiesenthal Center hosted these big fundraisers and honorary dinners. And Mike Tyson, who at the time was the heavyweight champion of the world, was at one of these dinners, and they were all sitting around talking. And Rabbi Hier, the head of the Wiesenthal Center, said, ‘Mike do you know who Simon Wiesenthal is?’ And Mike Tyson said, ‘Oh yeah, you’re the guy who bumped off Hitler.’

Wiesenthal runs off-Broadway at Theatre Row’s Acorn Theatre.