Today (May 4th) is Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Holocaust was committed by a nation whose church attendance was then high and whose creation of the most sublime sacred music ever written was etched deep into the minds of most people. Yet only the rare Catholic bishop and Protestant pastor spoke out against Hitler. Today Germans admit the guilt of their nation. School children are taught every detail of the Holocaust’s evil- not least about Adolf Eichmann, the personification of Nazi extermination policy.
At the end of World War II, Adolf Eichmann, the chief organizer of the eradication of the Jews in the concentration camps went into hiding. Later he got himself, with the aid of sympathetic clergy, to Argentina.
For the next 10 years he worked in several odd jobs in the Buenos Aires area- from factory foreman, to junior water engineer and professional rabbit farmer.
In June 2006, old CIA documents about Nazis were released. Among the 27,000 documents was a March 1958 memo from the German BND intelligence agency to the CIA which stated that Eichmann was reported to have lived in Argentina since 1952, using the alias, “Klement”. The CIA had taken no action on this information because Eichmann’s arrest, it was argued, would embarrass the US and Germany by turning public attention on the former Nazis they had recruited for key jobs.
Around the same time Mosad, the Israeli intelligence service, had decided to give up looking for Eichmann in Argentina because they could not discover his alias.
Throughout the 1950s many Jewish victims of the Holocaust dedicated themselves to finding Eichmann and other notorious Nazis. Among them was the Jewish Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal. In 1954, Wiesenthal received a postcard from an associate living in Buenos Aires, saying Eichmann was in Argentina. The message read in part: Ich sah jenes schmutzige Schwein Eichmann. (“I saw that filthy pig Eichmann.”) Er wohnt in der Nähe von Buenos Aires und arbeitet für ein Wassergeschäft. (“He lives near Buenos Aires and works for a water company.”)
With this and other information collected by Wiesenthal, Israeli intelligence had solid leads about Eichmann’s whereabouts. It did not follow them up.
Instrumental in exposing Eichmann’s identity was Lothar Hermann. He was a worker of Jewish descent who moved from Germany to Argentina following his incarceration in Dachau concentration camp. His daughter, Sylvia, became acquainted with Eichmann’s family and romantically involved with Klaus Eichmann. On one occasion Klaus made boastful remarks to her about his father’s position as a senior official in a previous German government. She reported this to her father. Shortly after Hermann realized, when reading a newspaper article about fleeing Nazis, who his daughter was dating.
Hermann began a correspondence with Fritz Bauer, chief prosecutor for the West German state of Hessen and provided details about Eichmann’s person and life. Bauer contacted Israeli officials who worked closely with Hermann over the next couple of years to learn about Eichmann and to formulate a plan to capture him.
Mossad became convinced that Eichmann was living in Buenos Aires under the name Ricardo Klement. The Israeli government then approved a covert operation to capture Eichmann and bring him to Jerusalem for trial as a war criminal. The Israelis continued their surveillance of Eichmann through the first months of 1960 until it was judged safe to take him.
Mossad decided to ambush Eichmann while he was walking from the bus stop to his house. When Eichmann got off the bus, two Mossad men wrestled him to the ground and pushed him into a car.
He was then brought to a Mossad safe house. There he was tied to a chair and interrogated. According to accounts, Eichmann was given a choice between instant death or trial in Israel. He chose to stand trial.
Eichmann was drugged to make him appear drunk and dressed as a flight steward. Then on May 21, 1960, they smuggled Eichmann out of Argentina on board an El Al flight.
In Israel he was put on trial, sentenced to death, and hanged.
Some of us have our caveats. For some it is an abhorrence of capital punishment, however grave the crime. Mine is the hypocrisy of the majority of Israelis who bury their heads in the sand, refusing to discuss openly an account in the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament that describes Moses dispatching his troops to kill all the women and children in a tribe his generals had just defeated, saying he had been told by God to order the killing.
Today, Israelis could do well to mention the record of Moses’s ethnic cleansing which is as much a crime against humanity as Eichmann’s, albeit on a much smaller scale.
Holocaust survivors will light six torches symbolizing the six million Jews who perished under Eichmann and his like. There should be a seventh.