Eichmann, Adolf: Israeli Capture
█ ADRIENNE WILMOTH LERNER
Karl Adolf Eichmann (1906–1962) was the head of the German Gestapo Department of Jewish Affairs from 1941 to 1945. During World War II, Eichmann oversaw the deportation of European Jews to ghettos. In 1942, he organized the Wansee Conference, a meeting of Nazi officials to devise the "Final Solution," the Nazi euphemism for the extermination of European Jews. Eichmann supervised the creation and operation of death camps, and set Nazi policy on the seizure of Jewish property. Immediately following the war, he was identified as one of the primary Nazi war criminals sought by international law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
After his arrest and escape from an American internment camp in 1946, Eichmann assumed a variety of pseudonyms and moved throughout Europe, never contacting his family. British and American intelligence searched for Eichmann for a few months, but as the Nuremberg Trials of other Nazi war criminals began, the focus of attention shifted from Eichmann and other escapees. The onset of
the Cold War further distracted the hunt for Nazi fugitives. Eichmann hid throughout Europe until 1950, before fleeing to Argentina with the aid of Nazi sympathizers. Once in South America, Eichmann sent for his family to join him. They eluded the authorities in Britain, Germany, and Israel who continued the search for various perpetrators of the Holocaust. It was through clues left by Eichmann's family, namely his sons Nikolas and Dieter, that authorities finally located Eichmann.
Finding Eichmann. During this time, Eichmann lived under the false name of Ricardo Klement, which he had taken when he escaped Europe. His sons, however, sometimes used the family name of Eichmann. In 1957, Eichmann's son Nikolas became involved with an Argentinean girl named Sylvia. Not knowing that the girl was Jewish, Nikolas often made anti-Semitic remarks and boasted of his father's deeds during the war. Nickolas' remarks, coupled with the occasional use of his real last name, made the girl's father suspicious. He contacted a friend in Germany, jurist Fritz Bauer. Bauer, who was imprisoned by the Nazis twice during the war, devoted his life to the location and capture of Nazi war criminals. Bauer notified Israeli authorities with the information.
Though Israel was a new nation, it had already developed a skilled intelligence service. A special unit of that service was called Mossad. The unit was formed to track down and kill enemies of the state, but dedicated its first few decades to the capture of terrorists and war criminals. The head of Mossad, Isser Harel, immediately took charge of the hunt for Eichmann. He chose a special team of 30 agents, several of them survivors of the Holocaust, to assist in the operation. The Israeli government decided that Eichmann should not be assassinated, but brought back to Israel to stand trial. To further complicate the matter, once Eichmann was found, he would have to be kidnapped and smuggled to Israel, a violation of Argentinean legal sovereignty. Because many Nazi sympathizers found refuge in South America during the war, the Israelis knew that a diplomatic extradition would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.
The lead that Bauer gave Mossad turned into a dead end. When an agent tried to locate the family, he discovered that Eichmann and his family had moved, with no forwarding address. Another lead surfaced in 1959. One of Bauer's informants in Italy discovered the pseudonym that Eichmann used when he immigrated to South America. Another agent discovered that a gas meter on the house from the first tip still bore the name Klement. Authorities were convinced that the man was Eichmann.
Mossad hatched a simple plan to find Eichmann's new address. Around the time of Nikolas' birthday, Mossad hired an undercover agent to dress as a bellboy and approach Dieter Eichmann with a package that needed to be delivered to his brother, Nikolas. The undercover agent did not know anything else about the mission. Dieter refused to give the bellboy his brother's address, and took the package himself. Prepared for this outcome, the Mossad team sent the undercover agent back to Dieter a few days later. The agent told Dieter that the sender of the package believed that the package was not delivered and demanded that she be paid for its lost contents. Dieter claimed that the package was not delivered to Nikolas because he was confused about the name, Nikolas Klement, which appeared on the box. Dieter further explained that his brother used the surname Eichmann, so he thought the package belonged to his father, Ricardo Klement. Dieter then reluctantly gave the bellboy his father's address, 14, Garibaldi Street, San Fernando. Mossad agents watched the house for several weeks, tracking Eichmann's daily schedule. One evening, the subject believed to be Eichmann stepped off his usual bus carrying flowers. He was greeted at his home by several people who gathered for a party. The day corresponded with Eichmann's wedding anniversary. These facts convinced the Mossad agents that they had positively identified the subject as Adolf Eichmann.
Eichmann's Capture. After locating Eichmann, agents then devised a plan for his capture and kidnapping. The Israeli team saw an opportunity to ferry Eichmann out of the country during the upcoming celebration of Argentina's 100th anniversary of independence. Several Israeli diplomats were invited to the celebration and would arrive on a specially chartered El Al flight. Agents knew Eichmann would have to be smuggled aboard this flight. Harel contacted the members of his select team who had remained in Israel awaiting further orders. Each agent was sent to a different city, from which he would depart for Argentina, supposedly to join the national celebrations. A series of safe houses was established. Once in Argentina, the Mossad agents changed locations and rental cars every day to avoid being tracked. On the evening of May 11, 1960, four agents were positioned in two cars near Eichmann's house on Garibaldi Street. They pretended to have car trouble. Eichmann was late getting home that evening, so two of the agents decided to leave. Two agents remained, continuing to occupy themselves with their car engine. At 8:30 in the evening, Eichmann alighted from his usual bus. He walked over the agents' car, offering assistance. The agents quickly overpowered Eichmann, put him in the car, and drove to the safe house.
The Mossad team had to keep Eichmann in their custody for several days until he could be smuggled aboard the departing El Al flight nine days later. He was shackled to his bed in the safe house, but was cooperative with Mossad agents. The team had counted on Eichmann's family not contacting local police. His family contacted several friends, trying to learn of his whereabouts, but none offered any information. They did not call the police for fear of drawing attention to Eichmann's real identity.
On May 20, 1960, Eichmann was slightly drugged and dressed in the uniform of an El Al crewmember. The agents who accompanied Eichmann were similarly dressed. A few days prior to their departure, the Mossad team sent one of their agents to a local doctor pretending to have a brain injury. He was issued a medical certificate for travel noting possible side effects, such as difficulty walking and speaking. The agents changed the name on the certificate to match Eichmann's new pseudonym, providing an alibi for his behavior while drugged.
Mossad was successful in its long mission. Eichmann landed safely in Israel on May 22, 1960. Eichmann stood trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Israel from April 2 to August 14, 1961. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
Eichmann was executed on May 31, 1962.
█ FURTHER READING:
Aharoni, Zvi, Wilhelm Dietl, Meir Amit, and Helmut Bogler (trans.) Operation Eichmann: The Truth about the Pursuit, Capture and Trial. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1997.
Black, Ian and Benny Morris. Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services. New York: Grove Press, 1992.
Isser, Harel. The House on Garibaldi Street: The First Full Account of the Capture of Adolf Eichmann. New York: Viking Press, 1975.
The Nizkor Project. < http://www.nizkor.com > (November 10, 2002).