Monday, September 23, 2013

Hunting Eichmann

Hunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious NaziHunting Eichmann: How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In a thrilling international manhunt, a group of Israeli secret service agents risked everything to bring Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann to justice.

Adolf Eichmann fled Germany in the wake of the fall of Berlin and made his way to Argentina. Juan Perón welcomed and sheltered Nazi war criminals in the decades after the war in spite of the guilty verdicts at Nuremberg. As years passed, Eichmann's role in the genocide of European Jews became more clear, though no one seemed interested in finding him. No one except for those who had survived.

Eichmann covered his tracks well and may have died free - diminished and impoverished, but free. There are details in the story that sound straight from a spy thriller but are well-researched and documented. A blind Jewish man and his beautiful daughter were the first to recognize the mass murderer in hiding - Eichmann's grown son's unrestrained anti-Semitism and familial pride sparked their suspicions. An Israeli commercial plane was drafted into service to smuggle the prisoner to Tel Aviv, its crew of Holocaust survivors only told of the man's identity after takeoff.

Israel was brand-new, and so was its intelligence agency, Mossad  Extracting Eichmann from a country so openly hostile to Jews was a major test of Mossad's capabilities. If a whisper of his danger reached Eichmann, the hunters were sure he would go deeper into hiding and evade justice for good. If the Argentine government found out about the spies in their country, all of the agents would have been imprisoned for life.

The story is a fascinating one, told with the kind of detail you normally find in a John le Carré spy novel like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The echoing horror of the Holocaust permeates the story, since each Jew attached to the hunt had his or her own losses to contend with. The self-discipline of the agents who captured Eichmann is remarkable - they were able to restrain their desire for vengeance in exchange for justice.

The object of the hunt was a man so thin, balding, spectacled and poor that he inspired disgust and pity in his captors. Eichmann's defense was that he had only been following orders, and his persona and defense strategy led reporter Hannah Arendt to coin the phrase "the banality of evil" in her controversial book Eichmann in Jerusalem. The trial served as a reminder of the Holocaust and touched off an entire era of studies in history and ethics. (An excellent book on the subject of banal evil is James Waller's Becoming Evil, one I read in a class Dr. Waller taught on the psychology of holocaust and genocide at Whitworth University.)

And for spy thriller junkies, you have to see Alfred Hitchcock's classic Notorious starring Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. Bergman is a civilian enlisted to spy on a group of Nazis in South America, pushed to ever-more compromising tactics by her handler, Grant. (It also has one of the most notorious kisses in movie history, a post-Hays Code smooch that took three minutes to finish.) See it. You'll thank me.
Do you really need more reasons?
"'We will bring Adolf Eichmann to Jerusalem,' [Isser] Harel said, striking the table, 'and perhaps the world will be reminded of its responsibilities. It will be recognized that, as a people, we never forgot. Our memory reaches back through recorded history. The memory book lies open, and the hand still writes.'" - 174

"That someone who looked like a postal clerk, someone so average in appearance and temperament, could have been responsible for killing millions of Jews was a horror in and of itself. Harel later described the feeling he had that night. 'The sight of that miserable runt, who had lost every vestige of his former superiority and arrogance the moment he was stripped of his uniform and powers of authority, gave them a feeling of insult and profound scorn. Was this the personification of evil? Was this the tool used by a diabolic government? This nonentity, devoid of human dignity and pride, was this the messenger of death for six million Jews?'" - 256

"David Ben-Gurion had achieved his ambition. The trial had a profound impact on Israel. It unified the country in a way it had not been unified since the 1948 war. It educated the Israeli public, particularly the young, on the true nature of the Holocaust. And, after sixteen years of silence, it allowed survivors to openly share their experiences. The trial also reinforced to Israelis that a sovereign state for Jews was essential for their survival." - 322

No comments:

Post a Comment