Simon Wiesenthal doesn't like being called a Nazi hunter.
The man who tracked down Adolf Eichmann, the man who has pursued the unspeakable Dr. Josef Mengele for three decades, the man who gave up his career as an architect and, 10 days after his release from Mauthausen death camp on May 5, 1945, began his life work of bringing Nazi criminals to justice-he is no hunter, he says.
"People imagine I have their pictures up on t he wall, like trophies. I don't. The trial and execution, they aren't in my hands.
"What I do is make people not forget."
So far Wiesenthal has caught about 1,100 Nazi war criminal. He and his helpers in Vienna have 500 more cases before them-some in America, some in Germany and Austria, some in South America, South Africa, Australia.
"The Nazi government gave out false papers to at least 20,000 people, we think." He was speaking in a crowded hotel room here during his quick tour of the East. For some weeks he had been in Los Angeles for the opening of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies which he sees as his real legacy to the world.
"I am getting many honors, but all these decorations will die with me," said the 70-year-old Wiesenthal, his face drawn and gaunt above the rumpled body of a large man who has lost much weight. "The center will keep on."
The center - dedicated to the proposition "that through education and awareness, society will never allow an atrocity the magnitude of the Holocaust to happen again"-consists of a museum, a memorial plaza and a multimedia presentation that puts the Holocaust before the viewer in a variety of ways.
An audiovisual program by British designer Arnold Schwarzman, soon to be shown around the country, is the centerpiece. There are also a Holocaust map, a photomotage, pictures of those most responsible for the death camps, an exhibit on the 2.5 million children who died in the camps, and video monitors updating contemporary attacks on human rights around the world.
A 15,000-volume library is planned, along with archives, research facilities and an oral history program. Lectures and evening classes already are being held there.
A later phase will include an auditorium and amphitheater on the site, classrooms, and exhibit hall and a more advanced media presentation.
At the moment Wiesenthal is concentrating his efforts on the battle to lift the West German statute of limitations on war crimes, which is due to take effect at the end of this year.
"We are sure this will be abolished," he said, "and we are working against the statute of limitations in America. Moral duties cannot be limited by time."
He is also working for the extradition to Germany of Gustav Wagner, a camp deputy responsible for the deaths of 250,000 people, who is now in jail in Brazil. Three other countries want to get at Wagner, but Wiesenthal feels Germany has the best case against him.
As for Mengele, Wiesenthal said he has received threats that if harm comes to Auschwitz's infamous "Angel of Death," the 800 Jews living in Paraguay will be attacked in revenge.
This is not quite how the story went in "The Boys From Brazil," in which Laurence Olivier portrayed a Wiesenthal-like pursuer. Wiesenthal said he had asked Olivier not to make him into some sort of Jewish James Bond.
"So he made me a Jew from the ghetto," Wiesenthal said with a faint smile. "I also asked the author, Ira Levin, why he never contacted me, and Levin said he had enough clippings about me."
Because of the threats of reprisal against Jews living in Paraguay, he is no longer pressing for Menegele's capture: "Mengele killed enough of them already. I will not be responsible for a few more."
Nevertheless, he said he knows every move Mengele makes, every restless trip from Paraguay to Uruguay, the 18-hour stay in Spain, the personal uprootings every few days as the man shifts "from hacienda to hacienda."
"He doesn't sleep two weeks in the same bed," Wiesenthal said softly.
It wasn't enough, but it was something.