Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann is in hiding in Argentina but his quiet, anonymous existence is about to be rudely interrupted. In Part 2 of this two-part story, Sophia Di Martino follows a crack team of Mossad operatives on a mission to capture the fugitive and deliver justice for the victims of the Holocaust. Told by a cast of experts and descendants of central figures inside the mission, this is the story of how Eichmann was finally brought to justice.
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True Spies, Episode 163: Extracting Eichmann Part 2 - Rat Trap

++Content Warning: This episode contains a description of an execution by hanging.

NARRATOR: This is True Spies, the podcast that takes you deep inside the greatest secret missions of all time. Week by week, you’ll hear the true stories behind the operations that have shaped the world we live in. You’ll meet the people who live life undercover. What do they know? What are their skills? And what would you do in their position?

NARRATOR: I’m Sophia Di Martino, and this is True Spies, from SPYSCAPE Studios.

ARIEL MAGNUS: He was a man with so much power. Try to imagine what it has to mean to have the power to kill millions of people, it’s like… Woah. 

NARRATOR: Extracting Eichmann Part 2 - Rat Trap. May 11, 1960. Buenos Aires. Garibaldi Street.

OMER MALKIN: It was almost exactly the same time every day. 7:30 p.m. is when the bus arrived.

NARRATOR: This night however the bus is running unusually late. And that’s not the only anomaly. When it does arrive, the man who alights every evening at this exact stop is a no-show.

OMER MALKIN: There are no cars there, no other people. 

NARRATOR: Look close enough and you’d see that actually, there are several men in the area, huddled into two vehicles across from the bus stop. And not any ordinary men. They’re some of the best spies in the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. But now, with their mark missing in action, even they are unsure of what’s going on.

OMER MALKIN: At that point, they weren't 100 percent sure whether he actually didn't show up. They thought maybe he did show up, maybe left the bus in a car or some other bus was passing by and they didn't see that that actually happened.

NARRATOR: The team decides to wait for the next bus to arrive. If their man doesn’t show up then, the mission could be over.

OMER MALKIN: And that next bus was late too - by a few minutes. And they were starting to think that maybe they needed to leave.

NARRATOR: But then, headlights appear in the distance. A minute or so later, the 8:05 pm bus arrives and opens its doors. As it pulls away it reveals two people: a man and a woman, heading in opposite directions. The man starts walking toward the parked cars. Instantly the team knows. It’s him - Ricardo Klement. His real name? Adolf Eichmann.

OMER MALKIN: My father started walking toward him.

NARRATOR: As the two men - one a Jewish spy and the other a notorious Nazi in hiding - draw closer, the sound of boots echoes over the field between the bus stop and the house.

OMER MALKIN: The same boots that he had when he was still in the SS.

NARRATOR: As he comes into clearer view, the crew grows concerned.

OMER MALKIN: A person within the team was telling my father, “Look, one of his hands is in his pocket. Maybe he has a gun.”

NARRATOR: With no time to change plans, the agent carries on.

OMER MALKIN: And so they kept walking toward each other. My father was close enough to him and then said to him, ‘Uno momentito.’

NARRATOR: In the last episode of True Spies we heard how the Mossad tracked down the infamous Nazi Adolf Eichmann to a small house in suburban Buenos Aires, Argentina. In this, the second part of True Spies, Extracting Eichmann, we’ll hear how the Mossad attempted one of the most important operations in its history.

ARIEL MAGNUS: When the Mossad finally went to Buenos Aires with this huge mission.

NARRATOR: In a country fraught with danger.

ARIEL MAGNUS: The Nazis had a strong group in Argentina at that time.

NARRATOR: To capture the man responsible for transporting millions of Jews to their deaths in the Holocaust.

ARIEL MAGNUS: If you give him power again he will do the same thing again.

NARRATOR: We’re back in Buenos Aires. May 1960. After years of searching, the Mossad has tracked down one of their Most Wanted targets - Adolf Eichmann. But the Israeli intelligence agency’s mission is unprecedented. Instead of simply eliminating Eichmann, a far easier operation, the Mossad is charged with capturing and smuggling him some 7,500 miles back to Israel.

ARIEL MAGNUS: They were there operating undercover in a country that was not so friendly with Israel, or with these kinds of operations.  

NARRATOR: This is Ariel Magnus, an Argentinian writer and author of a novel inspired by Eichmann.

ARIEL MAGNUS: Just to get caught. It will be an international disaster. 

NARRATOR: After all, sending personnel into a sovereign state to kidnap someone and then haul him away isn’t exactly great diplomacy. Knowing the risks, Mossad chief Isser Harel assembles a 10-man team of his best agents to go to Argentina. One of them is a veteran spy called Peter Malkin.

OMER MALKIN: He was the head of operations. In addition to that, he was a master of disguise.

NARRATOR: This is Peter Malkin’s son, Omer.

OMER MALKIN: He also was good with what we called Krav Maga in Israel or Martial Arts. 

NARRATOR: Developed specifically for the Israeli Defence Force, Krav Maga mixes techniques from judo, karate, boxing, and wrestling. And being an expert in Krav Maga, Peter was assigned a specific job in the mission. To make the actual capture of Adolf Eichmann himself.

OMER MALKIN: He was physically strong. It was common sense. 

NARRATOR: Like the rest of the team, the mission is personal for Peter.

OMER MALKIN: He was in Israel before the Holocaust but some of his family members - including his sister and her children - never made it and ended up dying in Auschwitz. 

NARRATOR: Without exception, all 10 agents had agreed immediately to join the operation.

OMER MALKIN: The historic significance of it made it very important to do it right and bring Eichmann to trial and not be caught.

NARRATOR: Most of the team was from Shin Bet. Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet’s motto was The Unseen Shield. At the time, Israel’s secret service was still small, and overlap between divisions wasn’t unusual. Isser Harel ran both the Mossad and Shin Bet out of an office of just 12 people. And given the significance of the mission, Harel himself decided he also needed to be on the ground in Buenos Aires. With Israel’s Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion having given final authorization for the mission, Harel assembled the team in his office. There he reminded them of the importance of the operation to the State of Israel itself. “We will bring Adolf Eichmann to Jerusalem. It will be recognized that, as a people, we never forget. The memory book lies open, and the hand still writes.” Then he turned to Rafi Eitan, field commander of Operation Finale, and asked, “Are your men ready?” “All ready,” Eitan replied. With that the team left, each man preparing for his own, deliberately separate journey to South America. Peter Malkin took a slightly different approach in his preparations. Aside from practicing ‘the grab’ on just about anyone he came across within Mossad corridors, he also collected more intel. Not on Eichmann, but on his own family history.

OMER MALKIN: My father as a kid - and I remember that very clearly - always said that he had a hard time hearing from his mother about the tragedy and the fact that it was such a big thing. Six million people. He tried to avoid hearing the stories. He's just a regular kid.

NARRATOR: But now, he needed to know.

OMER MALKIN: He disguised himself as a friend of himself and went to his mother's house in Haifa in Israel and knocked on the door and told her that he's here to rent a room in her apartment.

NARRATOR: Such is Peter’s skills at disguise, his own mother doesn’t recognize him at all. She replies that she is not renting a room but invites him in anyway.

OMER MALKIN: Like a good Jewish mother, feeding him with a lot of food and all that. And he was there for an hour plus. And the reason he wanted to go there was because he wanted to - as a stranger not as her son - to be able to witness what's in the house, to see the picture of his sisters and the kids, and to get a sense of the story of the family. Hearing it from her, telling it to someone that's not her son. So it'll be a little bit less heavy in a way. And that was his first preparation, getting into that mindset of what he's going to do a little bit like - I don't know if revenge is the right word, but closing the loop on what happened to his family.

NARRATOR: While the individual team members prepared themselves for a mission unlike any other, Isser Harel was arranging each of their aliases and travel documents. Every agent was to leave Tel Aviv under one passport and then switch to another in a third country, before traveling on to Argentina. Entry visas and vaccination statuses were also needed, which Harel ordered his most creative staff to forge. In this department he was well equipped - one of the 10-man team going to Argentina was the master forger Shalom Dani [sometimes styled Dani Shalom]. Dani had once managed to escape a Nazi concentration camp by fashioning a pass out of nothing more than toilet paper. To him, faking Argentinian Visas was simple. A third set of papers was arranged too in case the mission was compromised in-country and the team needed to evacuate. Meanwhile, all sensitive equipment that might be required - like handcuffs, sedation drugs, lockpicks, and disguises - were sent to Argentina in diplomatic pouches.

ARIEL MAGNUS: The Mossad made a huge operation. It was so professional. 

NARRATOR: Colleagues had even remarked that Harel’s office was beginning to look more like a travel agency than that of the Mossad chief. But now, with the final preparations made, Peter was finally on his way to Argentina. After several delays, he landed in Buenos Aires on May 4. Isser Harel and much of the rest of the team had already been in the city for several days. So compartmentalized was Harel’s planning that even his agents themselves didn’t know where he was staying. Instead, he met with them only for a few minutes to exchange absolutely necessary information at one of the tens of cafes he frequented each day.

OMER MALKIN:  They had not just one guesthouse, but various guesthouses. It was close to 10 houses. 

NARRATOR: After landing, Peter rendezvous with the rest of the team at one of them. There he learns that the capture is just days away: May 10.

OMER MALKIN: In terms of the actual capture of Adolf Eichmann, my father was very opinionated about it and wanted to make sure that he does it alone. He felt that by doing it alone, he can take care of all the different variables. Not to worry about others. Be very focused on how he does it. 

NARRATOR: As men who leave nothing to chance, the team gets to work surveilling Eichmann’s house, one of only two on Garibaldi Street. Perched on the other side of a railway embankment some 50 yards away, Peter tracks Eichmann’s every step to and from his work at a Mercedes-Benz factory.

OMER MALKIN: He wanted to map the geography, the area with the steps. He almost had it as a song in his head where he knew that at count one through four, it's him leaving the bus. Seven to 11, it's him walking toward the turn. Twenty-two to 27 is him doing this and that. And my father basically mapped his actions based on that.

NARRATOR: But seeing him in the flesh for the first time, Peter, like some of the other officers, is struck by the sight of this old man before him.

OMER MALKIN: On one hand, there's this monster that was responsible for the Final Solution, the killing of so many millions of people, Jews, and non-Jews. And on the other hand, he just looks like a person without much power. 

ARIEL MAGNUS: In my family, there was somebody that entered Mercedes-Benz seven years after Eichmann. He worked there and he told me that Eichmann had a very low position in Mercedes-Benz. Good employees had their own cars. He didn't, so he was still poor. 

NARRATOR: That was Argentinian writer Ariel Magnus again. He notes that, in this almost deserted area of Buenos Aires’ outskirts, there’s another strange irony.

ARIEL MAGNUS: The only thing that was nearby was a Jewish cemetery.

NARRATOR: Building up a profile of Eichmann’s routine, the Mossad agents agree that grabbing him on his walk from the bus stop back home is the best option.

OMER MALKIN:  It was almost exactly the same time every day.

NARRATOR: Dark, deserted, the two-minute journey was as good an opportunity as they would have but how they would do it was where the arguments started.

OMER MALKIN: The team, in general, was a large team so there were a lot of tension points.

NARRATOR: One in particular boiled down to how Peter would approach Eichmann. Zvi Aharoni, the man whose previous reconnaissance had triggered the operation, suggested he hide somewhere near the house before jumping on him as he approached. The support vehicles could then linger further afield, lowering the risk of alerting Eichmann before the grab. To Peter this was madness, telling Aharoni so in no uncertain terms.

OMER MALKIN: My father was very confident that Eichmann is a German. He does the things that he does in a very specific way. And he walks every day from the bus to the house in exactly the same number of steps. And there is no way that a car parking in the street, even if it looks a bit non-obvious, will make him change his plans.

NARRATOR: The next morning Peter, Zvi Aharoni, and Rafi Eitan meet with their boss Isser Harel to settle the debate. Peter presents his plan again.

OMER MALKIN: My father was very opinionated about it.

NARRATOR: And now he’s backed up his argument.

ARIEL MAGNUS: Cars broke down the whole time, like there were bad cars in Argentina.

NARRATOR: Peter and another agent would stand over the engine of one of the cars as if it had broken down.

ARIEL MAGNUS: It was common to see somebody trying to fix the car.

NARRATOR: That way Peter would be much closer to backup in case anything went awry, while also having an excuse to approach Eichmann. Harel isn’t convinced though. What if Eichmann is spooked, and runs away across the field? “I’ve seen plenty of Nazis in shiny boots,” Peter says. “They will not walk through the mud unless they absolutely have to.” Saying nothing, Harel rises from the table. Then he looks at Peter and says, “Fine, but it’s on your head.”

OMER MALKIN: That was a source of tension. And my father didn't think twice sometimes in terms of breaking a rule here and there when he thought it made sense. 

NARRATOR: But while the plan itself is now agreed, the timing has become a problem. On May 9, the day before the scheduled grab, Rafi Eitan heads back toward Garibaldi Street for final reconnaissance. But when he draws near, he’s dumbfounded by the scene. Police are everywhere. As Eitan approaches though, he breathes a sigh of relief. It is simply a traffic accident. But before he can turn around, a policeman knocks on his window. “Hospital,” he says. Again before he can do anything, Eitan turns to see the back door opened and an injured motorcyclist placed on the seat. “Hospital,” the policeman repeats. Not wanting to draw attention, Eitan simply nods and drives off, barely able to contain his disbelief. Dropping his passenger off as asked, Eitan knows they can’t go back to the scene tomorrow. Being spotted in the same place on consecutive days was out of the question to a True Spy. They couldn’t take the risk. While granting the team a 24-hour delay, Isser Harel was growing uneasy. His escape plan for the entire team, and Eichmann, had a hitch.

OMER MALKIN: The idea was to make him part of the El Al crew.

NARRATOR: El Al, Israel’s national airline. By a stroke of luck, the mission coincided with the 150th anniversary of Argentina. To mark the occasion, the government invited dignitaries from countries all over the world including Israel.

ARIEL MAGNUS: And so, they used this as an excuse to bring one plane.

NARRATOR: It was a perfect cover. All they needed to do was get Eichmann onboard undetected. But now there was a problem. The Argentinian government announced that they weren’t ready to receive the Israeli delegation until May 19, a week later than planned. That meant hiding Eichmann in Argentina for a whole week. Harel knew that almost immediately after he disappeared, Eichmann’s three adult sons would come looking for him. Every hour mattered.

ARIEL MAGNUS: Eichmann could teach things. He taught them as a Nazi will teach them. They were fierce anti-Semites and they were violent, and so they were dangerous people.

NARRATOR: And they had dangerous connections.

ARIEL MAGNUS: There were many Nazis in Argentina and they have a whole web of distribution. And they felt so strongly that they even thought about the possibility of establishing a German government outside Germany in Argentina.

NARRATOR: Knowing that trying to alter the flight schedule could arouse suspicion, Harel had little choice but to take his chances - not something the head of the Mossad did lightly in a country some 8,000 miles away from home. The team had to step up their preparations. They mapped three different routes from Garibaldi Street back to each of their near 10 safehouses, along with backup routes in case they were followed. Then they built hidden compartments in each car and safehouse to hide Eichmann once caught. One of the team, a master engineer and technician called Moshe Tabor made an electronic contraption that could change their cars’ plates at the touch of a button.

NARRATOR: And that wasn’t the only final preparation being made. In the garage of one of the safehouses, Peter was still rehearsing ‘the grab’.

OMER MALKIN: My father realized obviously as he was practicing the specific moment of capture that he will have to, probably, hold his mouth so that Eichmann will not shout or scream. That probably means that his hand will have to touch his saliva and mouth.

NARRATOR: Disgusted at the idea of being anywhere near Eichmann’s saliva, Peter made sure that didn’t happen.

OMER MALKIN: A day or two before, he went and bought some gloves.

NARRATOR: The plan was so precise that even this small detail felt like a compromise.

OMER MALKIN: He didn't love the idea because without gloves you feel everything. Everything feels more natural. Gloves give you an extra layer that is not ideal, but pros versus cons. He had to have gloves. 

NARRATOR: Despite now knowing Eichmann to be a weaker, older man, Peter still wondered how much of a physical threat he posed. He was, after all, once a member of the Nazi SD [Sicherheitsdienst], the fearsome intelligence unit that prided itself on its physical prowess and kill numbers. As the day of the capture approached, a man who prided himself on bringing men like Eichmann to justice was growing impatient.

ARIEL MAGNUS: Our great hero, Nazi hunter Fritz Bauer. 

NARRATOR: The man who forced the Mossad’s hand into launching the operation, German prosecutor Fritz Bauer had not heard anything from the Mossad since his meeting with Isser Harel several months ago. Determined to see Eichmann caught, he wrote to Israel’s Attorney General Haim Cohen demanding an answer. “I assure you this matter is being attended to intensely,” Cohen wrote back on May 10. “We expect to report exact details shortly.” Little did Bauer know just how shortly, for that same night Harel assembled the team for one final meeting. Tomorrow was the day. Every man had switched to their third set of identification papers. Then they ran through the final contingencies.

ARIEL MAGNUS: It could have been not so nice, not so clean.

NARRATOR: What if Klement was in fact not Eichmann? They would drive him several hundred miles north of the city, drop him off with some cash, and slip over the border into Brazil. What if Eichmann escaped and reached his house? Then they would get heavy, breaking in, taking him, and outrunning the police while the second car rammed any pursuers if necessary.

OMER MALKIN: What'll happen if Eichmann comes with his hands in his pocket, holding a suitcase, not holding something and all that? So a lot of that was very important. And how to capture him without anyone seeing. 

NARRATOR: What if they were caught with Eichmann? “Under no circumstances whatsoever are we to let him go,” Harel said. If surrounded, Rafi Eitan would handcuff himself to Eichmann and declare the team Jewish volunteers with no governmental authority. “You can expect at least three years in jail, maybe 10,” Harel said. Sensing a little unease he continued: “For the first time in history the Jews will judge their assassins. You were chosen by destiny. Everything depends on the action we are about to take.” With that, the team went back to their various safe houses. They would not see Harel again until after it was done.

Alt: May 11, 1960, was a day just like any other day in Ricardo Klement’s life. A creature of habit, every morning, he took bus 203 to the Mercedes-Benz factory and clocked in for work as a foreman. After a few hours inspecting the assembly line, he took lunch at 12:30 pm before returning to his afternoon work. Every day, he finished his shift in time to catch the 6:15 bus home. But back at Garibaldi Street, at 7:30 pm, a car pulls up and turns off its headlights. A second parks on the main road, illuminating the route.

OMER MALKIN: And it was a rainy day.

NARRATOR: Only distant thunder breaks the silence in the vehicles. Two men get out of the first car and open the hood. A few minutes later, bus 203 arrives but no one gets off. In the vehicles, the Mossad team can hardly believe it. For the first time since they started surveilling Eichmann, he has broken from his routine.

OMER MALKIN: Very unusual for someone doing everything in a very specific way.

NARRATOR: And he wasn’t at home either.

OMER MALKIN: One of the clues was that two or three minutes later when usually Eichmann makes it to the house, the lights are less dimmed within the house.

NARRATOR: But all the lights are off. The team begins to question what to do. At the hood of the first car, Peter Malkin leans toward its driver, Rafi Eitan. Eitan instructs everyone to wait for the next bus.

OMER MALKIN: Which is 30 minutes later.

NARRATOR: The minutes feel like hours. Had Eichmann spotted them earlier? Is someone watching them now?

OMER MALKIN: It's problematic because leaving doesn't just mean, “Okay, we'll do it tomorrow”. Because coming and resetting the whole thing for another day in an area where usually there aren't too many cars parking in that street is problematic.

NARRATOR: Eight o’clock passes. The second bus hasn’t arrived. The team grows tense. With every minute that passes they risk being seen. Then, in the distance, headlights emerge. Eventually, the vehicle comes into view. It’s bus 203. After a brief pause at the bus stop the driver pulls away, revealing two people walking in opposite directions. One, a man, is walking toward them. “It’s him,” the second car radios to Eitan. The man then reaches into his pocket.

OMER MALKIN: The team was telling my father, “Look, one of his hands is in his pocket. Maybe he has a gun.”

NARRATOR: And Peter is unarmed.

OMER MALKIN: My father was always just doing it with his own hands. He always said that his brain is his weapon, not the pistol.

NARRATOR: But Peter has come too far to care.

OMER MALKIN: My father started walking toward him. 

NARRATOR: As they converge, Peter practices his line.

OMER MALKIN: Uno Momentito Señor. One moment, sir. He felt that that would be important as a way for him to make sure that Eichmann stops and hesitates just for a second.

NARRATOR: A few seconds later the two men are face to face.

OMER MALKIN: My father said to him, “Uno Momentito”.

NARRATOR: The man looks at Peter. Unease on his face, he steps back.

OMER MALKIN: And that step back made my father say, “To hell with the señor” and jumped on him.

NARRATOR: Hitting the ground, the two men struggle.

OMER MALKIN: They fell into a ditch. 

NARRATOR: The man tries to scream.

OMER MALKIN: My father was holding his hand that was in his pocket with one hand and with the other hand holding his mouth.

NARRATOR: The other man at the hood of the car, Moshe Tabor, runs over. He and Peter overpower the man and throw him into the back of the car. The driver guns it. From ‘un momentito’ to the scene being completely empty took 25 seconds - almost double the time they had planned. In the car, Rafi Eitan puts blacked-out goggles over the captive’s eyes.

OMER MALKIN: He was shouting for a couple of seconds. 

NARRATOR: One of the crew turns and shouts in German: “If you speak we will shoot you.” Silence once again envelopes the car. A few minutes later the captive breaks it momentarily, saying in impeccable German: “I am resigned to my fate.”

ARIEL MAGNUS: In this moment, he realized that's it.

NARRATOR: En route back to the safe house, the two cars change plates twice. Once from local to diplomatic registrations, then back to a new set of local numbers. Arriving at the safe house, they bundle the man upstairs. The team doctor examines him for cyanide capsules - a known Nazi suicide strategy - while another agent strips him to his underwear. Again the man breaks the silence, this time saying: “No man can be vigilant for 15 years.” The atmosphere grows heavy.

OMER MALKIN: On one hand there's this monster that some people wanted to just kill. But at the same time, it also was clear that he's just a person. Suddenly you just see a person handcuffed, blindfolded, worried about his kids and family, and all that. And it was a little bit of a contradicting feeling.

NARRATOR: The doctor checks the man’s vitals and scans his body for scars. Two matched Eichmann’s file - one below his left eyebrow and another above his left elbow.

OMER MALKIN: So all the signs made it look like they have the right person.

NARRATOR: On the underside of his left arm though, where all SS tattoos were inked, there’s nothing except for some scar tissue. Peter dressed the man in pajamas and handcuffed his ankle to the bed frame. Then, the interrogation begins.

OMER MALKIN:  They also wanted him to say who is. And he kept saying he's Ricardo Klement.

NARRATOR: The team try a different tactic.

OMER MALKIN: One of the team members read the SS number to him, Adolf Eichmann’s SS number.

NARRATOR: But it’s not his number. He’s deliberately got it wrong.

OMER MALKIN: And Eichmann, being very much by the book, corrected him, saying, “No, it's not a seven, it's an eight.”

NARRATOR: That was it. This was their man. The interrogator finally asks: “Under what name were you born?”

OMER MALKIN: And that's when he said he's Adolf Eichmann.

NARRATOR: The room erupted with joy. The agents embraced one another like they had never done before. Now trembling, Eichmann asks for some wine.

OMER MALKIN: The next thing right after that was him asking them who they are.

NARRATOR: Israelis, the interrogator replies.

OMER MALKIN: And they had to say it because they wanted to bring him to Israel anyway. 

NARRATOR: And not only that, they were under orders to try and get Eichmann’s written consent to stand trial in Jerusalem. Israel’s Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, wanted the eventual case to appear as legitimate as possible to the watching world. Having Eichmann agree to rendition would be a huge advantage.

ARIEL MAGNUS: He cooperated the whole time when he was in the safehouses but the problem was when he knew he was going to Israel, he wouldn't take at first.

NARRATOR: Eichmann thought he should go to Germany to stand trial, where he thought…

ARIEL MAGNUS: …I will say my truth. That is, I did what I had to do. I didn't have any option. And they would give me a couple of years and then I will go out.

NARRATOR: After a few days though, seeing he has no choice, he relents.

OMER MALKIN: He signed the paperwork and not too long after that, they started preparing him to get him out of the country.

NARRATOR: And by then, the team knows that Eichmann’s sons will suspect he’s been abducted.

OMER MALKIN: And the family understood that something is going on because they found these glasses.

NARRATOR: In the melee to get him into the car, Eichmann had lost his glasses. Peter realized a few hours later and even went back to the scene but they had already gone.

OMER MALKIN: They were starting to find some clues toward him being captured.

NARRATOR: Eichmann’s middle son was abroad, leaving the other two to track down their father. After getting nowhere with the police, locals and even much of the former Nazi network in Buenos Aires, Nick, and Dieter Eichmann grew desperate. Employing the help of a local far-right group, the Tacuara, they start roaming the city streets brandishing pistols. One tip-off led them to break into a local synagogue, only to find nothing and no one there. Many of the Tacuara were sure the Israelis were behind it, but all they could do was scour the capital. And all Peter and the rest of the team could do was hide out at the safe house. Meanwhile, Mossad chief Isser Harel got the Israeli ambassador to Argentina to cable back to HQ one line: The typewriter is okay. Eichmann is caught. On May 19, 1960, as part of the 150th-anniversary celebrations, the first Israeli plane ever to land on Argentinian soil taxied up to the terminal at Ezeiza airport. Once parked, out stepped Israeli minister Abba Eban to a jubilant crowd of local Jews. His easy demeanor and short speech in perfect Spanish betrayed none of the inner tension he felt. For he knew that Adolf Eichmann was soon to be smuggled aboard the same plane. Back at the safehouse, the team dressed Eichmann in an El Al steward’s uniform.

OMER MALKIN: It's funny because I remember my father telling me that once he started wearing the uniform, he started to feel confident again. He was asking to see himself in the mirror to make sure that he looks good. 

NARRATOR: Looking at his reflection, Eichmann notices something else too.

OMER MALKIN: On his hat, he has a star of David but can’t do much about it.

NARRATOR: Until they were over the Atlantic, Eichmann was now El Al employee ‘Mr. Zichroni’. Shalom Dani had forged a passport and other documents, while the team doctor prepared an anesthetic and mildly sedated the captive.

OMER MALKIN: Enough so that he can still walk but without being able to suddenly do something that is not per plan.

NARRATOR: So that his lethargic appearance added up, Dani had even forged a medical certificate from a local hospital. It stated that crew member Zichroni had suffered a head injury, but was now cleared to fly. Final preparations made, the crew loaded him into the car and set off. Isser Harel meanwhile was at a restaurant in the airport terminal to coordinate operations. At 11 pm, the team pulled into the airport parking lot, where Harel came out to greet them. Satisfied, he ordered them to drive to the airport maintenance area. Through various El Al contacts, Harel had organized for the crew to pass through uninterrupted and onto the awaiting plane. 

OMER MALKIN: And then they embarked on the plane as part of the whole crew. 

NARRATOR: By this point, the capture team has split up. Peter and several others are watching from the terminal. 

OMER MALKIN: They all took their own direction to find a way to get out of the country. 

NARRATOR: In a window seat of the First Class cabin, Adolf Eichmann sat covered by a blanket. At five minutes past midnight, May 21, the plane accelerated down the runway and took flight.

NARRATOR: Twenty-five minutes later, the telephone rang on the desk of a Brazilian secret service agent. On the other end was a former SS officer in Argentina. “You must intercept the El Al plane shortly due to land at Recife airport,” he said. The SS officer had a tip-off from Eichmann’s son, Nick, who had learned through his search party that an Israeli passenger plane had just departed Buenos Aires. “It couldn’t be a coincidence,” he thought. On board though, the crew had no need to worry. Isser Harel had personally ordered the pilot to ignore their scheduled stop at Recife and instead head straight over the Atlantic - a feat unmatched by most aircraft in 1960.

ARIEL MAGNUS: It was game over. 

NARRATOR: In the early afternoon of May 23 in central Cologne, Germany, Fritz Bauer sits down for lunch. Even though he was the prosecutor who had lit the flame under the Mossad operation, he has still heard nothing. A few minutes later, however, the man who has asked to see him arrives. Leaning toward him, the man tells Bauer the news: Eichmann is in prison in Israel. Bauer leaps from his seat, tears welling in his eyes, and kisses the man on both cheeks. After 15 years, the man he wanted caught more than any other will finally answer for what he has done.

KARYN HIRSCH:  We think of him as a hero, the opposite of a victim. He actually tried to do something about justice. 

NARRATOR: This is Karyn Hirsch again, a descendant of Bauer’s.

KARYN HIRSCH:  It's not great to think that you've had a relative who's been caught up in this huge machinery and couldn't fight back for themselves. So it did change the narrative greatly for all of the immediate family that we had an attorney who went about it legally and managed to get his parcel of justice against people who had done horrible things, unmentionable things. There was a full circle then. It wasn't something that went unanswered.

NARRATOR: Later that same day, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announces to the Israeli parliament and to the world, “Adolf Eichmann is under arrest in Israel and will shortly be placed on trial.”

ARIEL MAGNUS: When you see what the Mossad made, it was so professional, so perfect. It couldn't fail. It could have been not so nice, not so clean. It was so, so clean at the end. 

NARRATOR: On December 15, 1961, after a four-month televised trial, Adolf Eichmann rose from a seat enveloped by bullet-proof glass in the district court of Jerusalem to hear the verdict. He was declared guilty on all counts and sentenced to death. Visited by a Canadian Protestant missionary in his cell, Eichmann said: “I did nothing wrong. I have no regrets.” Argentinian writer Ariel Magnus again.

ARIEL MAGNUS: No remorse. What he really thought was, “We killed six million and we should have killed 10 million. That was our job. We didn't do the job perfectly. And that's the only thing I didn't accomplish.”

NARRATOR: Just before midnight on May 31, Eichmann was escorted out of his cell, down the corridor, and into another room. There they placed him on a platform and tied his legs together. Before him, he saw a line of men - journalists, guards, policemen. But there was another face there also. One he now knew - Rafi Eitan, Commander of Operation Finale. Eitan had interrogated Eichmann in prison [about] the SS - how it had operated and who else was at large. But now, with the noose placed around his neck, he had only one thing to say to Eitan: “I hope very much that it will be your turn soon after mine.” Then he said…

ARIEL MAGNUS: “Long live Germany. Long live Austria and long live Argentina.”

NARRATOR: A guard yelled “Action.” The floor under Eichmann’s feet dropped away. Ten feet below, he snapped to a halt. A minute later, a doctor inspected the swaying body and declared him officially dead. To this day, it is the only capital punishment in Israel’s history. For years afterward, Peter Malkin’s mother asked if he was involved in Operation Finale. He denied any knowledge of the mission.

OMER MALKIN: Nothing was ever said by my father, partly because for many years it was a secret. And even when it wasn't a secret, he was not a man of many words.

NARRATOR: But then, in 1967, he got a phone call. His mother was near the end. Rushing to the hospital, he knelt at her bedside.

OMER MALKIN: She was borderline in a coma. And he kept telling her “Ima, Ima, Ima,” and was holding her hand. And she didn't react or respond to anything. And then he basically told her, “I captured Adolf Eichmann.” And he had to say it a few times and at some point he felt her hand movement and kind of like shaking his hand for a few seconds, like as a sign that she heard him. And she died the same day, within an hour or two after that. I remember that as a story that was very impactful for my father as well.

NARRATOR: And the gloves that Peter wore during the capture? Omer remembers them being in the house when he was growing up.

OMER MALKIN:  I have a sculpture of the gloves. The gloves are in a museum in Israel these days.

NARRATOR: Many years later, the unique life of a True Spy was revealed to Omer when he asked his father about Eichmann’s trial.

OMER MALKIN:  My father came there, two or three times. No VIP treatment. There were long lines to be part of the crowd inside the courtroom. This is how he always was. He was always undercover and no one knew who he was. And I remember he’s telling me that it's funny, he was in Israel, in his own country, among other citizens and the only person he knew in the room was Adolf Eichmann. No one else.

Guest Bio

Buenos Aires-born Ariel Magnus (pictured) is an Argentinian writer who studied Spanish literature and philosophy at the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Germany.

Omer Malkin is the son of Peter Malkin, the legendary Israeli intelligence agent who directed the surveillance that led to the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann.

Karyn Hirsch is a descendent of German prosecutor and Nazi hunter Fritz Bauer.

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