How did one of the world’s most wanted war criminals go undiscovered for over a decade?
For nearly 10 years, Ricardo Klement, his wife and four sons lived in a modest town in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Living nearby, a young girl named Silvia Hermann came to know one of Klement’s four sons, Nicholas Eichmann and soon enough, the two began courting one another. Like Nicholas, Silvia’s family were German expatriates who fled to Argentina after World War II, however Silvia was unaware that her father, Lothar, was a half Jewish man and Holocaust survivor. Lothar was imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp, survived, however not without challenges. Several years after his arrival in Buenos Aires he lost his eyesight as a result of severe beatings from the Gestapo.
With rising suspicion, Lothar began to put the puzzle pieces together, suspecting that Nicholas was indeed the son of notorious war criminal Adolf Eichmann who, at the time, was living under the alias Ricardo Klement. Soon thereafter the Hermanns moved to a town 300 miles from Buenos Aires, losing contact with the Eichmanns. What revealed itself next is something Silvia could have never predicted.
By 1957, news clippings with reports of a Nazi trial in Frankfurt reignited Lothar’s original hunch that the man mentioned was most likely Nicholas Eichmann’s father. Adolf Eichmann was a German Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer (lieutenant colonel) and one of the major organizers of the Holocaust 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.
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. In order to pursue Eichmann and make a case for an investigation, Bauer needed evidence. Bauer, who acted outside his official role as Chief Prosecutor, was concerned that his colleagues were Nazi sympathizers and would thwart the investigation. At Bauer’s request Lothar went in search of more details regarding Eichmann. Soon enough, Lothar was able to positively identify Eichmann, sending good word back to Bauer.
Bauer confidently released the confidential information regarding Eichmann to Mossad, stating that he believed the notorious Nazi was hiding in Argentina. 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 a, “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 welcomes visitors to its special exhibition, Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann on view now, curated by former Mossad agent Avner Avraham. Visit and experience the exhibition live, including recently declassified artifacts like Eichmann’s fake Israeli passport and the famous bullet-proof glass box that protected Eichmann during his trial.