By Harrison Heller, Membership Coordinator
WASHINGTON – On June 1, 1962 Adolf Eichmann was hanged in Ramla, Israel. His body was later cremated, and his ashes were spread at sea, so there would be no memorial. But how did this happen? How did a Nazi get to Israel to be tried by the people he so wanted to destroy? The film Operation Finale tells this incredible story.
To understand the film, you must understand Eichmann’s past and how he got to Argentina. Eichmann was born in Germany on Mach 19, 1906 to a blue-collar family. Eichmann was not the strongest student while attending school, so he eventually dropped-out and began working in his father’s mining company in Austria. In 1932 he joined the Nazi Party and the SS, where he rapidly rose through the ranks.
In 1933, Eichmann was recalled to Germany where he was appointed the head of the Department of Jewish Affairs. His primary focus was emigration, he arranged for Jews to leave Germany and the German Reich. To ensure this, he finalized the “taxes” that the Jews and their families had to pay. This money went straight into his pocket. In September 1939, he drew up the plans for the organized ghettos across the major cities of Europe. His hopes were to build a Jewish reservation in Far East Russia and in Madagascar. He wanted to have the main transportation center in Nisko (southeast Poland). These plans were to never be carried out.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, representatives from several Nazi government ministries arrived for a meeting, known as the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942. Reinhard Heydrich and his new lieutenant, Adolf Eichmann, shared their new plan for solving the “Jewish problem”. They laid out their plans for “The Final Solution”, organized railroads that lead to extermination camps, where death was manufactured. Eichmann was credited for designing the railway network and gas chambers. He noted that the gas chambers would make it easier for the troops to carry out their “orders” of mass murder. At the height of the Holocaust, the commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau said, “He was sending more human freight than I can kill.”
May 1945, World War II was over. Eichmann was captured by American forces. Using forged documents, he went under the identity of Otto Eckmann. Realizing that SS officers had tattoos under their arms, he had his forcibly removed before escaping. He fled to Austria where he hid in relative safety for five years, before fleeing to Argentina. 1950’s Argentina was a safe haven for many Nazi war criminals, due to the fascist sympathetic government of President Juan Perón. (1997: a DAIA, Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas, investigation discovers 22,000 documents that proves a “network” managed by Rodolfo Freude, advisor to the President. Freude had an office in the Casa Rosada (the President’s official residence) and was close to Eva Perón’s (Evita) brother, Juan Duarte). Operation Finale picks-up ten years after Eichmann’s arrival in Buenos Aires.
Sightings of Eichmann in Argentina began as early as 1958. Messages were being sent to Mossad, and they were being paid very little attention to, as Mossad was paying more attention to future matters. As more sightings came in, they saw the urgency to capture the fugitive war criminal. In May 1960, a plan was hatched to smuggle Eichmann out of Argentina. Israel knew going in that the Perón government would not extradite Eichmann for a trial in Israel. Coincidently, this was also the time of Argentina’s 150th anniversary of their revolution against Spain. Tourists were coming in from all over the world. Mossad agents snuck into Buenos Aires and began monitoring Eichmann at his home on Garibaldi Street in San Fernando (about 20 miles north of Buenos Aires). They took notes of the neighborhood and his commute to and from his work at a Mercedes-Benz factory. On May 11, the agents posed as stranded tourists with a broken-down car. They see Eichmann exiting a bus and making his way towards them. One of the agents bumps him and asks him for a cigarette. 3 agents tackle Eichmann to the ground and subdue him. Once arriving at a safe house, the Mossad agents ask for his name, and he replies “Roberto Clement”. An agent asks him in German, “Wie heifsen Sie?” Eichmann says, “Ich bin Adolf Eichmann” (“I am Adolf Eichmann”).
The agents had to wait another 9 days before smuggling Eichmann out. During this time, they had to get a sworn statement from him saying that he is willing to stand trial in Israel. On multiple occasions he refused. One of the agents was able to work with Eichmann and got him to sign. Upon signing, they dressed Eichmann up in an El-Al pilot’s uniform and drugged him, to appear drunk after a night out in Buenos Aires. On May 23, 1960, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion announces to the world that Israel has captured Adolf Eichmann.
April 11, 1961 the trial of Adolf Eichmann begins, and becomes the first trial to be televised in history. He was charged with 15 crimes, which include: crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and various war crimes. On December 15 he was found guilty on all counts and was sentenced to death. On May 31, 1962 Eichmann was hanged and cremated in a custom oven. His ashes were thrown to sea.
Operation Finale was a great film. There are some parts of the story where Hollywood took their liberties, but it was to help the pacing of the film. The film features a great young actor in Oscar Isaac and comedian Nick Kroll. Sir Ben Kingsley picks up the roll of Adolf Eichmann. Kingsley, known for such roles as Ghandi, Otto Frank, Yitzhak Stern, tells the Associated Press, “… didn’t portray Adolf Eichmann out of love or admiration. Rather, he wanted to ‘nail him to the gates of Auschwitz.’”
Volume 72. Number 3. Fall 2018