Efraim Zuroff

Chief Nazi-hunter – Simon Wiesenthal Center
Director – SWC Israel Office and Eastern European Affairs

Efraim Zuroff

Born in New York, Efraim moved to Israel in 1970 after completing his undergraduate degree in history (with honors) at Yeshiva University. He obtained a M.A. degree in Holocaust studies at the Institute of Contemporary Jewry of the Hebrew University, where he also completed his Ph.D., which chronicles the response of Orthodox Jewry in the United States to the Holocaust and focuses on the rescue attempts launched by the Vaad ha-Hatzala rescue committee. In 2000 Yeshiva University Press and KTAV Publishing House published his study of the history of the Vaad ha-Hatzala, which was awarded an Egit Grant for Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Literature by the Israeli General Federation of Labor (Histadrut) and also received the 1999-2000 Samuel Belkin Literary Award for the best book published by a Yeshiva University alumnus in the field of Jewish studies. 

In 1978 he was invited to be the first director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, where he played a leading role in establishing the Center’s library and archives and was historical advisor for the Academy award-winning documentary Genocide.

For the past 40 years, he has played an increasingly important role in the worldwide efforts to find and help bring to justice Nazi war criminals. He began his career as a Nazi-hunter in 1980 when he was hired by the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations to be their sole researcher in Israel. During his six years in that capacity, his efforts assisted in the preparation of cases against numerous Nazi war criminals living in the United States.

In 1986 his research uncovered the postwar escape of several thousand suspected Nazi war criminals to Australia, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand and other countries, and he rejoined the Wiesenthal Center to coordinate its international efforts to bring Holocaust perpetrators to justice. These efforts have influenced the passage of special laws in Canada (1987), Australia (1989) and Great Britain (1991), which enable the prosecution in those countries of Nazi war criminals.

Since the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the fall of Communism, Zuroff has played a major role in the efforts to convince Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia and other post-Communist societies to confront the widespread complicity of their nationals in the crimes of the Holocaust and to prosecute local Nazi collaborators. His public advocacy on these issues has been instrumental in the submission by Lithuania and Latvia of indictments (Lileikis, Gimzauskas, Dailide) and/or extradition requests (Kalejs, Gecas) against local Holocaust perpetrators. In 1991 he exposed the rehabilitation of Nazi war criminals in Lithuania and led the campaign to stop this process. Zuroff was appointed by the then Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to serve on the joint Israeli-Lithuanian commission of inquiry established to deal with this issue, which led to the cancellation to date of approximately two hundred rehabilitations granted to individuals who had participated in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. In 2000 he exposed the rehabilitations granted by the Latvian government to Nazi war criminals and has led the efforts to cancel these pardons, two of which have been rescinded.

In the summer of 2002, together with Aryeh Rubin, founder of the Targum Shlishi Foundation, he launched “Operation: Last Chance,” which offers financial rewards for information which will facilitate the conviction and punishment of Nazi war criminals. So far, the project has been initiated in fourteen countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Romania, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Germany, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, and Norway) and has yielded the names of over one thousand hereto unknown  suspects, one hundred and ten of which have been submitted to local prosecutors. Among the Nazi war criminals uncovered by the project, against whom legal action was taken, are: Croatian Milivoj Asner, Austrian Erna Wallisch, and Hungarians Karoly Zentai, Sandor Kepiro, and Laszlo Csatary. In December 2011, in the wake of the conviction in Germany of Sobibor death camp guard Ivan Demjanjuk, he launched “Operation Last Chance II,” to focus on death camp guards and those who served in the Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units). In July 2013, Zuroff  launched a poster campaign in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne under the slogan “Spät aber nicht zu spät (Late but not too late) to help locate Holocaust perpetrators, which has yielded the names of numerous additional suspects. In recent years, he succeeded in finding and exposing four persons suspected of service in the Einsatzgruppen (Nazi mobile killing units), which carried out the massacre of 1.5 million Jews during the years 1941-1943, who were alive and well in Germany. Additional information on this unique project is available at: www.operationlastchance.org

From 1998 to 2014, Zuroff directed a research project to identify Nazi war criminals who were receiving special disability pensions from the German government, which passed special legislation to enable their cancellation in 1998. To date, the pensions of approximately 100 individuals who “violated the norms of humanity” have been cancelled.

Zuroff played an important role in the exposure, arrest, extradition and prosecution of Dinko Sakic, the former commandant of the Croatian concentration camp Jasenovac (nicknamed the “Auschwitz of the Balkans”). In early October 1999, Sakic who lived for more than fifty years in Argentina, was sentenced in Zagreb to twenty years’ imprisonment for his crimes in the first-ever trial of a Nazi war criminal in a post-Communist country, and he died in prison in July 2008.

In his first book, Occupation: Nazi-Hunter; The Continuing Search for the Perpetrators of the Holocaust (KTAV: Hoboken, 1994), Zuroff chronicles the belated efforts to prosecute Nazi war criminals in western democracies and explains the rationale for such efforts several decades after the crimes. A German-language edition was published by Ahriman Verlag in 1996. His third book Operation: Last Chance: One Man’s Quest to Bring Nazi Criminals to Justice (Macmillan: New York, 2009 [hardcover]; paperback, 2011) summarizes almost three decades of Nazi-hunting and focuses on the renewed efforts spearheaded by Zuroff to hold Holocaust perpetrators accountable, in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union and the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, as well as on the results achieved by “Operation: Last Chance.”  A French-language edition was published under the title Chasseur de Nazis (Paris: Michel-Lafon) in late 2008, a Serbian edition entitled Lovac na naciste (Belgrade: Zabor za udzbenika) appeared in November 2009, a Polish edition entitled  Lowac Nazistow (Wroclaw:Wydawnictwo Dolnoslaskie) was published in June 2010, a German edition entitled Operation Last Chance; Im Fadenkreuz des “Nazi-Jaegers appeared in December 2011, and was updated in 2013.Hungarian and Finnish editions of the book were published in 2012, a Romanian version appeared in 2017, and a Croatian edition in 2018.

His fourth book Mūsiškiai; Kelionė Su priešu (Our People; Journey With an Enemy), written with Lithuanian author Rūta Vanagaitė, which deals with Lithuanian complicity in Holocaust crimes, was published in 2016 in Lithuanian by Alma Littera. The book, which is already in its fourth printing in less than a month, has inspired a nationwide debate on the role of Lithuanian collaborators in the Holocaust, a subject of intense controversy in the Baltic republic. It was published in Polish in 2017, in Russian and Hebrew in 2018, in Sweden in 2019, and in English (Our People; Discovering Lithuania’s Hidden Holocaust), by Rowman & Littlefieldin 2020. Versions in Ukrainian and Japanese are also slated for publication this year.

His activities as a Nazi-hunter were the subject of five television documentaries. The first, entitled “The Nazi-Hunter,” was produced by ZDF(German Channel 2) in 1999; the second, entitled “The Last Nazi-Hunter” was produced by SWR(German Channel 1-regional station) in 2004; the third “The Final Hunt for the Nazis” by France Trois(Channel 3)  was broadcast in December 2005; and the fourth “The Search for Doctor Death,” was produced by BBC in 2009. A fifth film, a full-length documentary commissioned by Israeli Channel 10 Television entitled “Tzayad ha-Natzim ha-Acharon (The Last Nazi-Hunter)” was screened in April 2012.

In 1995 and 1996, Zuroff was invited to Rwanda to assist the local authorities in their efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of the genocide which took place in that country in spring 1994, and he has served as an official advisor to the Rwandan government.

In recent years, Zuroff has lectured extensively to audiences all over the world regarding the efforts to bring Nazi war criminals to justice. During the years 1992-1999, he served in the Education Corps of the Israeli Defense Forces (reserves) and lectured to thousands of soldiers about his work as a Nazi-hunter.

Over the years Zuroff has published almost 500 articles, reports, and reviews on various topics relating to the Holocaust and other issues of concern in the Jewish world. His publications have appeared in scholarly journals such as Yad Vashem Studies, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Simon Wiesenthal Center Annual, Jewish Political Studies Review, American Jewish History, and the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, as well as in the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, TAZ Die Tageszeitung, Times of Israel, Jerusalem Post, The Independent, Tikkun, Jerusalem Report, Ma’ariv, Ha-Aretz, Yediot Achronot, Eretz Acheret, Jewish Chronicle, SHALOM, and other publications and have been translated into eighteen languages. The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s  “Annual Status Report on the Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals,” which Zuroff initiated in 2001, and which has been published every year since, is considered the authoritative source on the subject. In recognition of his efforts as a Nazi-hunter and Holocaust scholar, he was nominated by Serbian President Boris Tadic and the members of parliament of the Democratic Party of Serbia as a candidate for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize. In January 2009, he was awarded honorary citizenship of Novi Sad, the second largest city in Serbia, and in February 2010 he was given an official state decoration for his efforts to combat historical revisionism and neo-fascism by Croatian President Stjepan Mesić. In 2017, he was awarded the Gold Medal of Merit by Serbian President Tomas Nikolic for his “exceptional achievements [and] selfless dedication to defending the truth about the suffering of Jews, and also Serbs, Roma, and other nationalities during World War II.” In December 2018, he received the “Fiddler on the Roof” prize awarded annually by the Russian Federation of Jewish Communities for his “bravery in fighting against Holocaust revisionism,” at a ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow.

(Updated December 2020)