Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal, who became famous for spending years tracking down Nazi war criminals in order to bring them to justice, was actually working for Israel's spy agency Mossad, according to a new biography on the man.
Tom Segev's book, "Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends," alleges that Israel was more involved in capturing Nazis after World War II than was previously believed, The New York Times reported.
The commonly held view was that the Israeli government did not start tracking Nazis until Adolf Eichmann was caught in Argentina in 1960.
But the biography reveals a failed attempt by Israel to seize Eichmann, architect of the "Final Solution," in Austria in 1949, the Times reported.
Simon Wiesenthal died in 2005 at the age of 97 in his Vienna home. The book is being published this week by Doubleday in the United States as well as in six other countries, including Israel.
Segev, an Israeli writer for Jerusalem's newspaper Haaretz and author of numerous books on Israeli history, told The New York Times that he was given access to some 300,000 private papers belonging to Wiesenthal and kept privately by his daughter, Paulinka Kreisberg.
"This requires us to adjust in some small way our view of history," Segev told the paper.
He added he found names of Mossad agents and handlers and interviewed them in the process of writing the book.
Five concentration camps
The biography asserts that Wiesenthal, who was a prisoner in five concentration camps during the Holocaust, enlisted in the Israeli Foreign Ministry's state department, which was a precursor to the intelligence agency Mossad, and then in the Mossad itself.
Wiesenthal was paid a monthly salary of $300, Haaretz reported, and was also provided with an Israeli passport — he was born in what is now part of Ukraine — and given the codename "Theocrat," the book states.
As for the attempted capture of Eichmann, the biography asserts that another agent working with Wiesenthal likely threw off the operation by talking about Israel's war of independence in a local bar.
Eichmann probably heard that there was an Israeli present and canceled a visit to his family, the book says, according to both newspaper reports. It was Wiesenthal who told Mossad in 1953 that Eichmann was in hiding in Argentina, the book asserts.
He was captured in 1960 and, after a televised trial, Eichmann was found guilty and hanged in 1962. Segev also says in the biography that Wiesenthal opposed the execution because he believed Eichmann had more to tell.
Wiesenthal is credited with bringing 1,100 Nazi war criminals to court. He set up the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles in 1977 to combat anti-Semitism, promote human rights and support Israel.