Local | Obituaries

Solomon Littman, journalist, scholar, author and Nazi hunter, dies at 96

obit-sol-littmanSolomon I. “Sol” Littman, 96, a journalist, scholar, author and hunter of Nazi war criminals, died Jan. 2, 2017.

Littman was born in Toronto and educated at the University of Toronto, State College of Washington and University of Wisconsin. After 14 years as a director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith in Canada, he became editor of the Canadian Jewish News and also reported for the Toronto Star and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He was the first director of the Canadian branch of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization that pursued Nazi war criminals and provided the research necessary to bring them to justice.

He published two books, “War Criminal on Trial: Rauca of Kaunas,” the story of the first Nazi war criminal in Canada to be extradited for war crimes, and “Pure Soldiers or Bloodthirsty Murderers: The Ukrainian 14th Waffen-SS Division,” as well as numerous articles.

Littman and his wife, Mildred, moved in the mid-1990s to Tucson, where he became a visiting scholar at the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Arizona. He also taught classes at the Tucson Jewish Community Center and the UA’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, and wrote several articles for the Arizona Jewish Post.

Littman continued working up to the time of his death.

“Sol was a local treasure …. He was a warm, fascinating person to talk to and his compassion and curiosity were always apparent,” says Lynn Davis, director of arts and culture at the Tucson J.

His classes at the J typically focused on 20th-century Jewish history, she says, such as his most recent, “Lessons of the Holocaust.” “If I recall correctly, he was on the first plane of North American journalists into Israel immediately following the Six-Day War and had a treasure trove of photos from that time,” says Davis.

“He was a very talented man. And he was always, always learning something new,” says his daughter Nina Littman-Sharp, who recalls that “you couldn’t go anywhere with him without him meeting somebody he knew or making a friend of somebody he didn’t.”

Mostly lauded for his work as a Nazi hunter, Littman was criticized for calling a 1985 press conference to announce that Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi doctor who sent hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths at Auschwitz, had applied for a visa to Canada from Buenos Aires in 1962. The Canadian government convened a commission of inquiry into Nazi war criminals, but its lengthy report said there was no evidence to prove the Mengele allegation, according to the Toronto Star and Canadian Jewish News. The CJN says Littman was “unruffled,” glad the Canadian government was taking the issue of war criminals seriously.

While the social justice and anti-discrimination aspects of his work were very important to him, her father also loved teaching, says Littman-Sharp, who adds that his OLLI classes at the UA covered a wide range of topics, from George Bernard Shaw to Jewish writers, slavery in America, poverty and gun control.

J. Edward Wright, director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, recalls that Littman participated “very energetically” in a faculty meeting as recently as November.

The UA originally brought Littman on board “so we could support his research through his affiliation with the university. I really wanted to support his work on tracking down these Nazi war criminals,” says Wright.

As a teacher, Littman “was deeply concerned about exposing young people to [issues of] prejudice and anti-Semitism and what it produces,” he says.

Littman was also the driving force behind the Judaic studies community outreach adult education program, Sekhel veLev (Mind and Heart), he says, noting that hundreds of people took those courses over a 13-year period.

Despite Littman’s doggedness in tracking war criminals, “he was a gentle spirit. Everyone enjoyed having him around the department,” says Wright. “He will be deeply missed.”

Littman’s survivors include his wife, Mildred; daughters, Deborah Littman of Vancouver and Nina Littman-Sharp of Toronto; sons-in-law, Stephen Nathan and Christopher Sharp; sisters, Esther Rubin and Judith Karp; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A private service was held, with arrangements by Angel Valley Funeral Home.