By Benjamin Shapiro
The Nazi responsible for the murder of millions of innocent people may well have lived out his days in Argentina as “Ricardo Klement”—until fate, a Holocaust survivor, and Israel’s foreign intelligence service intervened.
Avner Avraham, a former Mossad agent and curator of Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann, walked through the exhibition and gave background on some of the little-known facts about how Eichmann was discovered in Buenos Aires and the team that tracked and captured him.
Discovery of Eichmann in Buenos Aires
The hunt for Adolf Eichmann began with a love story. Silvia Hermann, a German ex-patriate living in Argentina, became infatuated with a young man by the name of Nick Eichmann. Silvia’s father Lothar, a survivor of Dachau concentration camp, began to suspect that his daughter was seeing the son of an infamous Nazi criminal. Lothar contacted Fritz Bauer, an Israeli prosecutor and fellow survivor, alerting him of his hunch. Thus began Operation Finale, a top-secret mission that would eventually bring SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann to justice.
Surveillance Photos and SS Document
For Operation Finale to officially begin, Mossad had to confirm that the man living in Argentina under the name of Ricardo Klement was in fact Adolf Eichmann. The only image that existed of Eichmann was the one included in his SS identification documents. This low-resolution photo was the only image with which to compare the surveillance photos taken of Ricardo Klement. With a lack of defining characteristics in the blurry SS photo, Mossad agents were able to match the shape of Klement’s ear to the shape of Eichmann’s ear. With this one iota of similarity, Mossad was able to conclude that Ricardo Klement, the humble foreman at a car factory, was Adolf Eichmann.
Maintaining Cover Stories
The 11 Mossad agents charged with surveying, tracking, and capturing Eichmann were operating under absolute secrecy. No person or organization outside the intelligence agency, including the Argentinian government, was to be aware of Operation Finale. Israel was operating on foreign soil, and a single slip-up would mean immediate intervention by the Argentinian government. The cover would be blown, and Eichmann would disappear into the shadows. The trained operatives assumed tourist identities, giving them the ability to take photos and loiter without arousing suspicion.
Benjamin Shapiro is a Public Relations intern at the Museum.