The Capture of Adolf Eichmann
Adolf Eichmann was a German Nazi SS-Obersturmbannfuhrer, a rank which was equivalent to that of a lieutenant colonel. Due to his bureaucratic talents he worked his way up through the SS to the point where by the end of 1938 he was tasked with creating and running the Central Office for Jewish Emigration in Vienna. In 1939 he was transferred to the Reich Manin Security Office where he dealt with Jewish affairs and evacuation. For the next six years his office was the headquarters for the implementation of the Final Solution. In 1942 Eichmann was put in charge as Transportation Administrator of the “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” It was Eichmann’s “resettlement” department that created the death camps, developed gassing techniques and organized the convoys that would take Jews to their deaths. He also was one of the major presenters at the Wannsee Conference of January 20, 1942. He emerged from that conference as the “Jewish specialist” charged with implementing the Final Solution.
Adolf Eichmann, for the most part, was a desk-murderer; he was only directly involved in the deportation of Jews for a six week period in German occupied Hungary beginning in late April 1944. During those six weeks he managed to send 440,000 Hungarian Jews to the gas chambers.
The End of the War
In November 1944 Heinrich Himmler ordered the Final Solution to be ended and all evidence of its existence destroyed. Eichmann was appalled by Himmler’s decision and continued his work in Hungary against official orders. He also was trying to avoid being called up in the last-ditch German military effort. He fled Budapest right before the Soviets encircled the city returning to Berlin and then onto Austria.
After the war there was chaos in Europe, consequently, though a number of top Nazis were captured and tried at Nuremberg, many escaped. The Jewish Brigade of the British Army, in addition to assisting in the immigration of Jews to Palestine, organized themselves into a group dedicated to tracking down Nazis called the Nokmin (the Avengers). They located and captured or killed hundreds of SS, especially those involved with the Final Solution.
Adolf Eichmann escaped both the Nuremberg trials and the Nokmin. All trace of him had been lost in May 1945. Immediately following the German surrender Eichmann had been arrested and held in an American internment camp; however, his name was not well known and he managed to escape. He remained in Europe, in hiding, not contacting his family. With the help of Nazi sympathizers he was able to make his way to Argentina in 1950 using a passport issued by the Red Cross under the name Ricardo Klement. In 1952 he sent for his wife and children.
Eichmann lived his life in Argentina arguably under the protection of Juan Peron and the Argentinean government. He maintained the Ricardo Klement alias but his children were registered in school under the name Eichmann. Apparently he was living a somewhat normal life moving at least twice and changing jobs at least once.
All of that began to unravel for Eichmann in 1957 when Fritz Bauer, the public prosecutor for Hesse, Germany, called Walter Eytan at the Israeli Foreign Ministry with the information that Eichmann was alive and living in Argentina. Eytan immediately alerted Isser Harel, the head of Mossad.
Harel spent that night reading Eichmann’s dossier. When he began he knew very little about him; however, when he got up from his desk after reading all night he knew that Eichmann was the paramount authority in everything that pertained to Jews. It was his hands that pulled the strings controlling the hunt for Jews and the massacre of Jews. He knew that at the Nuremberg trials the other other Nazi war criminals had pointed to Eichmann as the head butcher. He also knew that when the war was over Eichmann had succeeded in blotting out all traces of himself with supreme expertise.
Harel also knew that no one was looking for Eichmann. No agency, no government, no police force. Until the Mossad took up the search, no one was aware that Eichmann was still out there. Harel determined that he would capture Eichmann and not simply kill him. He believed Eichmann needed to be brought back to Israel to stand trial for his crimes before the world and before the people he tried to exterminate. Harel asked David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli prime minister, for the go-ahead and he gave it. The search for Adolf Eichmann was underway.
At first they had very little to go on except for the knowledge that he was apparently living in Argentina. They had one lead, one of Eichmann’s supposed sons, Nicholas, had been involved with an Argentinean girl to whom he had boasted about his father’s role in killing Jews in Europe and had made the statement that it would have been better if the Nazis had finished the job. Unbeknownst to Nicholas, the young lady happened to be Jewish. Nicholas was also using the name Eichmann openly at times.
The Mossad followed up but when they checked the address, Eichmann no longer lived there. While the lead didn’t go anywhere, they now knew Eichmann was definitely in Argentina with at least one of his sons. Also, apparently the son did not realize the tenuousness of his father’s situation and was being rather careless.
The investigation moved on, slowly, delicately and secretly. They could not afford to have Eichmann suspect he was being hunted – he could possibly disappear once again as he had immediately following the war. But even more imperative was the necessity that they not capture the wrong man. Their task was extremely difficult, Eichmann had been extremely careful in constructing his new life as well as deconstructing his old one. All evidence of his former identity had been destroyed. He had gone so far as to have the tattoo removed all SS men had under their left armpit. All they had to go on were blurred pictures from before the war.
In late 1959 the Israelis discovered that when he fled Europe for Argentina Eichmann had changed his name to Ricardo Klement. They also discovered that, as Klement, he had run a now defunct laundry business for a while.
The Mossad picked up Eichmann’s son’s trail and were led to a house on Garibaldi Street in the San Fernando section of Buenos Aires. The house was under constant observation, photographed from every conceivable angle and extensive notes were taken about anything and everything concerning the house, its structure and the surrounding area. They observed the family that lived there, specifically the balding, bespectacled man who was the head of the family. They became convinced it was Adolf Eichmann. But they had no proof.
On March 21, 1960 Ricardo Klement got off of the bus and walked to his home. With him he carried a bouquet of flowers. Klement gave the flowers to the woman who greeted him at the door. The children were dressed as if for a special occasion. Sounds of laughter could be heard, the family was in a celebratory mood. March 21, 1960 was Adolf Eichmann’s silver wedding anniversary. There were no more doubts. Mossad had its proof.
Isser Harel went to Argentina to personally supervise the capture of Eichmann. A team of thirty was put together for the capture and then the removal of Eichmann to Israel. These thirty were all experienced agents who were absolutely trustworthy and one hundred percent dependable in a crisis. They all had proven their mettle under fire, and each one of them had personally survived Nazi persecution and had family who had not.
In May 1960 Argentina would be celebrating its 150th year of independence and it was decided that this would be a good time to act due to the increased travel to and from the country. Agents were flying into Argentina from all over the world, ostensibly for the celebrations but in actuality for capturing Eichmann. No two came to Argentina from the same city. They rented safe houses and constantly changed cars to prevent anyone from becoming suspicious of them. To ensure there were no complications with documents Mossad set up a travel agency in an unidentified European city to handle all of the travel documentation, visas, and health certificates etc.
At this point of the operation everything Mossad did was to try and create the impression they were not working from Israel. They would be violating Argentinean sovereignty by kidnapping Eichmann and taking him out of the country and they well knew they were in a country and on a continent where there were a lot more people who would want to stop them than help them.
On May 11, the operation was ready for action. They knew Eichmann came home from work about 7:40 p.m. and the plan was to snatch him when he got off of the bus. At 7:35 they had two cars in place, one near the bus stop and the other 30 yards away. The operatives of both cars were tinkering with their engines as if they were having car trouble. A bicyclist stopped to see if he could assist them but his offer was politely but firmly refused.
Two busses came and went, but no Eichmann. Then another bus went by with no Eichmann. They began to wonder if he had changed his routine for some reason. Was it possible that he had already returned home earlier in the day? Was he not coming home?
At 8:05 another bus came and then Eichmann was walking toward his house. As he approached the car he was grabbed and he fell to the ground letting out a terrible yell. The panic stricken Eichmann was pulled into the car, bound and gagged, and blacked-out goggles were put over his eyes. He was then shoved onto the floor of the car. He offered no resistance. At 8:55 Eichmann was removed from the car and taken inside the safe house.
He was stripped, searched for identifying marks and put in pajamas. He was specifically searched for any poisons he might have on his body, they did not want him committing suicide before he stood before an Israeli court. He only briefly tried to hide his true identity but then his cooperation was described as full and unhesitating. The Mossad operatives could not believe that the Nazi monster they had been hunting was in reality this frightened, nervous, pathetic little man.
Mossad kept him for a week in a room in a safe house while they firmed up plans to extract him from Argentina.
The Eichmann Family
Isser Harel was virtually alone among Mossad operatives who did not think the Eichmann family would be a problem. His position was that if they brought the fact that he was missing to the attention of the public they would also be bringing to light that he was Adolf Eichmann and not Ricardo Klement. Harel was correct.
His family did call hospitals and clinics but avoided calling the police. They contacted their friends but none were willing to help. They were too worried about themselves, in fact many of them scattered throughout South America, some even to Europe. They had a fear that they very well may be the next target. The Mossad also tried to capture Joseph Mengele, and nearly got him, but were unable to finalize the capture. Unfortunately he was never taken by the Israelis.
"To sum it all up, I must say that I regret nothing."
While awaiting trial in Israel, as quoted in LIFE magazine (5 December 1960)
The problem now was how to get Eichmann through customs and out of the country without raising Argentinean suspicions. To accomplish this they sent one of their agents to the hospital claiming that he had suffered brain damage from a fake accident. Admitted to the hospital he showed gradual improvement until he was declared to be well enough to fly home to Israel.
The Mossad simply took the agent’s certificate and substituted Eichmann’s name and photograph on the form. Eichmann was then drugged, blurring his senses but still allowing him to walk with assistance. On May 20, 1960 Adolf Eichmann was flown out of Argentina to Israel.
Once the plane was in the air many of the El-Al crew members became visibly upset learning Eichmann was on the plane. But under strict orders from Harel no one manhandled him until the trial.
"I was never an anti-Semite. ... My sensitive nature revolted at the sight of corpses and blood... I personally had nothing to do with this. My job was to observe and report on it." Eichmann
On July 12, 1950 Eichmann’s wife, Veronica, formally presented herself to the Argentine Federal Court and denounced her husband’s kidnapping. At this time she revealed documents related to his entry into Argentina and admitted that Ricardo Klement was Adolf Eichmann.
Her complaint was that Eichmann had been denied due process. The court officially closed the case at the end of 1962 claiming they were unable to identify Eichmann’s kidnappers.
Adolf Eichmann went on trial in Israel beginning on April 11, 1961. The trail aroused enormous international interest, some controversy and created a great public outcry of emotion in Israel and Eichmann was kept in a bulletproof glass box to protect him. The whole story of the final solution came out and Eichmann claimed he was simply a “cog in the machine” and acting “under orders.”
He was found guilty of a series of crimes including crimes against humanity and crimes against the Jewish people. He was sentenced to death on December 15.
On May 31, 1962 he was executed by hanging in Ramleh, Israel. His body was cremated and his ashes were carried out into the Mediterranean and dumped beyond Israel’s territorial waters so they would never foul the land of Israel again.
The execution is the only time Israel has enacted a death sentence.
Mossad finally acknowledged their role in the abduction of Eichmann in February 2005.
"Adolf Hitler may have been wrong all down the line, but one thing is beyond dispute: the man was able to work his way up from lance corporal in the German Army to Fuhrer of a people of almost 80 million. ... His success alone proved that I should subordinate myself to this man." Eichmann