What are the odds that your daughter begins dating the son of one of the most notorious war criminals? This man nearly escaped the hand of justice, until his 1960 capture.
Adolf Eichmann, a German Nazi SS–Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust, was tasked with facilitating and managing the logistics involved in the mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in German-occupied Eastern Europe during World War II.
After the war, like many Nazis, Eichmann escaped to Argentina where he lived out his days in hiding under the alias Ricardo Klement alongside his wife and four sons. They were able to live in quiet obscurity for nearly 10 years, until his son began courting the daughter of Lothar Hermann, a German expatriate and Holocaust survivor of Dachau concentration camp. Lothar’s realization that Ricardo Klement may in fact be Adolf Eichmann, led him to Chief Prosecutor of the West German State Hessen, Fritz Bauer, and eventually the Israeli Intelligence Agency, Mossad.
By May 11, 1960, nearly 15 years after liberation, Mossad sent over eleven agents to Argentina. Mossad tracked Eichmann’s movements for weeks, knowing when he left his house on Garibaldi street, where he ate lunch, who he interacted with, when he came home and on what bus. When the day finally came to capture Eichmann, he was late coming home. Agents Zvi Malkin and Rafi Eitan waited for two hours in a Buick parked on Garibaldi street. When Eichmann finally arrived, Zvi Malkin got his attention with the words “Momentito, señor.” A panicked Eichmann quickly headed in the opposite direction, only to be taken down by Zvi Malkin and brought into the Buick. At long last, he was in Mossad’s hands.
Upon capturing Eichmann in 1960, Mossad agents encountered their first significant hitch. The EL AL Israel Airlines plane scheduled to bring Eichmann back to Israel was delayed. For over a week, Mossad agents camped out in the covert safe-house with Eichmann. Agent Zvi Malkin turned to drawing to pass the time. His sketches represent the six million Jews killed by the Nazi Regime.
Soon enough, Eichmann was on board and bound for Tel Aviv, and disguised as an EL AL flight attendant with a false Israeli passport. With Eichmann safely in Israel, the success of Operation Finale could finally be shared with the public. David Ben-Gurion, the Prime Minister of Israel at the time, broke the news of Eichmann’s capture, gaining global attention. “Eichmann is already in this country under arrest and will shortly be brought to trial.” There was to be one trial, with one man. Eichmann was executed by hanging during the night between May 31 and June 1, 1962.
The Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan is hosting a special exhibition detailing the hunt for Adolf Eichmann, curated by former Mossad agent Avner Avraham. Visit Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann—on view now.