Jerusalem: A new book claims renowned Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal worked for Israel`s Mossad spy agency, providing information on war criminals and Germans working in Arab countries.
The assertions in `Wiesenthal - The Life and Legends` shed a different light on the Holocaust survivor previously believed to have conducted a lone quest to bring war criminals, such as top Nazi Adolf Eichmann, to justice.
"(It) is quite surprising in the context of his own story, because he was always regarded as a loner, someone who does everything alone against all odds and against local law enforcement," the book`s author, Israeli historian Tom Segev, said.
The founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, Rabbi Marvin Hier, said Wiesenthal had told him he had assisted the Mossad. But Hier said he never realised how formal the relationship had been or that Wiesenthal had been paid for it.
In the book, Segev writes that the famed Nazi hunter worked with Israeli agents even before the establishment of the Mossad in 1949. In December 1948, Wiesenthal helped a forerunner of the agency mount a failed attempt to capture Eichmann, who was known as "the architect of the Holocaust”.
According to Segev, Wiesenthal and three agents from the political department of Israel`s Foreign Ministry waited for Eichmann in the Austrian village of Altaussee, believing he would join his wife and children there for New Year`s Eve. But Eichmann never showed up.
Wiesenthal continued to provide intelligence to Israel through the 1950s, but his steady relationship with the Mossad only began in the run-up to the 1960 operation to capture Eichmann, Segev said.
Wiesenthal worked with the Mossad until 1970, operating under the code name "Theocrat" and providing Israeli intelligence information on suspected war criminals, neo-Nazi groups that threatened Jewish communities in Europe and German scientists working for Egypt`s rocket program.
The agency helped Wiesenthal open his office in Vienna and put him on the payroll with a monthly retainer of some USD 300, Segev said.
Segev was given first-time access to Wiesenthal`s office and personal archive, and sorted through some 300,000 documents. He then followed the paper trail to track down and interview three of Wiesenthal`s former Mossad handlers.
The book says that Wiesenthal and his handlers met to exchange information at the Cafe Mozart in Vienna or at the philatelic club where the Nazi hunter indulged in his stamp collecting hobby. They kept up a friendly correspondence after Wiesenthal`s work ended and those letters tipped Segev off to the Mossad link.
Segev said Wiesenthal had a good relationship with Israel and Mossad officials, although they didn`t always agree on his priorities as an informant.