SCoJeC commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day this year with a talk on the historic capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960, and his subsequent trial. Around 125 people attended the online talk by Avner Avraham, a former Mossad agent who is an expert on their historic operations.
Avner has spent many years documenting and publicising the inside story of Eichmann's capture, and helped to curate a museum exhibition Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann. This was the basis of a documentary of the same title that MGM later adapted into a film, Operation Finale, directed by Chris Weitz and starring Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley.
Avner explained the intricacies of the operation, describing the agents involved, and how it came about as a result of a letter from Lothar Hermann, a half-Jewish German who had emigrated to Argentina in 1938.
In 1954 Hermann found out that his daughter Sylvia had begun dating a man named Klaus Eichmann – a name he recognised. Once the Mossad had determined that Klaus was indeed Eichmann’s son, a number of agents were sent separately by different routes in order not to attract attention, and after weeks of surveillance they were able to photograph Eichmann in the Argentine village where he lived. This enabled them to establish that they indeed had the right man by observing that an indentation in his left ear was identical with that shown in the photograph attached to Eichmann's army record.
Avner emphasised that the operation to capture Eichmann, and the trial that followed, are to this day unique. This was the only Holocaust-related trial to take place in Israel, and it was televised for the world to witness.
Last year Israel issued a commemorative medal to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the trial, and Avner presented one of these to the only member of the audience who was able to answer two questions correctly: how many of the team were able to speak Spanish? And how many cars did they use in the operation? (The answers are 0 and 2!)
After the event many of the audience enthused about the “excellent presentation” by an “enthralling speaker”, and one told us that his father had met Eichmann in Vienna around 1935, before the Anschluss when the Nazis still permitted Jewish people to leave:
“Dad was about 6 foot tall and didn't look Jewish. He was working at the time for a Dutchman, Gildermeister, who was a philanthropist. Dad had to negotiate with Eichmann how much the Jews living in Vienna had to pay as a tax to leave. He wasn't allowed to face Eichmann, rather face a wall and talk to that. The negotiation lasted about 30 minutes and then was over. Separately, my Uncle, who came from a rich family, was sent to Dachau when it was only a prison camp, and he was allowed out only after the payment of a large fine.”