Jews kidnapped and smuggled a Nazi criminal from Argentina

Several Jews and other victims of the Holocaust dedicated themselves to finding Eichmann and other Nazis. Among them was the Jewish Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal.Wiesenthal learned from a letter shown to him in 1953 that Eichmann had been seen in Buenos Aires, and he passed along that information to the Israeli consulate in Vienna in 1954. When Eichmann’s father died in 1960, Wiesenthal made arrangements for private detectives to surreptitiously photograph members of the family, as Eichmann’s brother Otto was said to bear a strong family resemblance and there were no current photos of the fugitive. He provided these photographs to Mossad agents on 18 February.

Also instrumental in exposing Eichmann’s identity was Lothar Hermann, a German half-Jew who had emigrated to Argentina in 1938. When in 1956 Hermann’s daughter Sylvia began dating a man named Klaus Eichmann who boasted about his father’s Nazi exploits, Hermann alerted Fritz Bauer, prosecutor-general of the state of Hesse in West Germany.Sylvia, sent on a fact-finding mission, was met at the door by Eichmann himself, who said he was Klaus’ uncle. Informed that Klaus was not home, she sat down to wait. When Klaus returned, he addressed Eichmann as ‘Father’. In 1957 Bauer passed along the information in person to Mossad director Isser Harel, who assigned operatives to undertake surveillance, but no concrete evidence was initially found. On 1 March 1960 Harel dispatched to Buenos Aires the Shin Bet chief interrogator Zvi Aharoni, who over the course of weeks of investigation was able to confirm the identity of the fugitive. As Argentina had a history of turning down extradition requests for Nazi criminals, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion made the decision that Eichmann should be captured rather than extradited, and brought to Israel for trial. Harel himself arrived in person in May 1960 to oversee the capture. Mossad operative Rafi Eitan was named leader of the eight-man team, most of whom were Shin Bet agents.

The teleprinter that was used to send messages regarding the capture to Israel’s diplomatic missions around the world

The team captured Eichmann near his home on Garibaldi Street in San Fernando, Buenos Aires, an industrial community 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of the centre of Buenos Aires on 11 May 1960. The agents had arrived in Buenos Aires in April 1960 after Eichmann’s identity was confirmed. After observing the suspect’s routine for many days, they determined that he arrived home by bus from work at around the same time every evening. They planned to seize him when he was walking beside an open field from the bus stop to his house. The plan was almost abandoned on the designated day when Eichmann was not present on the bus he usually took home. Finally, almost half an hour late, Eichmann got off a bus. Mossad agent Peter Malkin engaged him, asking him in Spanish if he had a moment. Frightened, Eichmann attempted to leave, but two more Mossad men came to Malkin’s aid; the three wrestled Eichmann to the ground and, after a struggle, conducted him to a car where they hid him on the floor under a blanket.

Eichmann was taken to one of several Mossad safe houses that had been set up by the team. He was held there for nine days, during which time his identity was double-checked and confirmed. During these days, Harel tried to locate Josef Mengele, the notorious Nazi doctor from Auschwitz concentration camp, as the Mossad had information that he was also living in Buenos Aires. He was hoping to bring Mengele back to Israel on the same flight. However, Mengele had already left his last known residence in the city, and Harel was unable to get any leads on where he had gone, so the plans for his capture had to be abandoned.

Near midnight on 20 May, Eichmann was sedated by an Israeli doctor on the Mossad team and dressed as a flight attendant. He was smuggled out of Argentina aboard the same El Al Bristol Britannia aircraft that had a few days earlier carried Israel’s delegation to the official 150th anniversary celebration of Argentina’s independence from Spain. After a tense delay at the airport getting the flight plan approved, the plane took off for Israel, stopping over in Dakar, Senegal, to refuel. They arrived in Israel on 22 May, and Ben-Gurion announced Eichmann’s capture to the Knesset—Israel’s parliament—the following afternoon. In Argentina, the abduction was met with a violent wave of antisemitism carried out by far-right sectors, including the Tacuara Nationalist Movement.

In June 1960, after unsuccessful negotiations with Israel, Argentina requested an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council to protest, as they regarded the capture as a violation of their sovereign rights. On 23 June the Council passed Resolution 138, which agreed that Argentine sovereignty had been violated and requested that Israel should make reparations. After further negotiations, on 3 August, Israel and Argentina issued a joint statement agreeing to end the dispute. In Eichmann’s trial and subsequent appeal, the Israeli court determined that the circumstances of his capture had no bearing on the legality of his trial.