The House on Garibaldi Street
November 4, 2009 11:35 AM   Subscribe

The capture of Adolf Eichmann is one of the more daring spy operations in the post WWII era. The story spans 17 years, beginning with Eichmann's clandestine escape from the Allied forces and the Nuremberg trial, and ending with his hanging in Israel.

After WWII, Eichmann was able to escape the Nuremberg trials and the subsequent efforts of Nazi hunters in Europe. He worked as a farmer for 5 years, before he was able to gain passage to Argentina with the help of an organization that helped ex-Nazis defect to South America.

However, Nazi hunters like Simon Wiesenthal never forgot about Eichmann and the crimes he had committed. After years of chasing false leads, the Mossad finally found Eichmann and assembled a team to capture him. This team included Rafi Eitan and Peter Malkin. The team followed Eichmann and planned his capture, which ended with the Israelis smuggling a drugged Eichmann aboard an El-Al plane and making two transcontinental flights that pushed the plane's limits.

The operation caused embarrassment for some of the world's superpowers. But, the trial went on nonetheless.

Subsequent generations have studied this capture and the impact it had on the world as a whole.

You can find repositories of Eichmann related documents here, here, here and here.
posted by reenum (22 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Reenum, thanks for this. I also recommend Uki Goni's The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Peron's Argentina to see the extent to which Peron, with cooperation of the Catholic Church on two continents, worked worked to give not only Eichmann but a whole slew of Nazi war criminals refuge. (The book's research is amazing, but the narrative leaves a little to be desired. But still amazing and chilling reading. Incidentally, Goni's research influenced novelist Philip Kerr to write two pretty fantastic noir thrillers based around Eichmann's flight to Argentina: The One from the Other, and A Quiet Flame.)
posted by scody at 12:09 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

"worked worked" means, of course, that they worked doubly hard, the fascist bastards.
posted by scody at 12:10 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Talking about this without bringing up Operation Paperclip is impossible. The American government, specifically the American military, recruited a significant number of Nazi scientists to help with the Space Race. The USSR had orbited Sputnik just a few years before the Eichmann operation, and it would have been very bad publicity indeed for it to come out that the backbone of the American space program was formed of unrehabilitated Nazis. Not Nazi sympathizers, mind you--that would have been bad enough--but actual card-carrying Nazis. Many of the scientists attempted to recant their earlier positions, but many of them, protected as they were by the military, did not. At least one was convicted of war crimes by the French. Those are the sorts of people we're talking about here.

A good chunk of the casefile is still classified.

So yeah, not entirely surprising that the CIA wasn't exactly thrilled to bits over something like this.
posted by valkyryn at 12:31 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Was he extradited to Israel for hanging? Were any of the war crimes committed in Israel, or was that the only place that would hang him?
posted by Balisong at 12:39 PM on November 4, 2009

Er, nevermind... Those crazy zionists.
posted by Balisong at 12:41 PM on November 4, 2009

valkyryn, I was just going to say the same thing. The V2, whose construction alone cost 20,000 lives, essentially started the US space program (and helped the Soviets as well). But you don't hear much about that.
posted by tommasz at 12:44 PM on November 4, 2009

with cooperation of the Catholic Church on two continents, worked worked to give not only Eichmann but a whole slew of Nazi war criminals refuge.

Not unique to Argentina. The Church sheltered Vichy officials, in France, from the postwar governments, even though they were wanted for crimes against humanity.

Nazis, Falangists, Mussolini, sundry nasty Eastern European regimes... ahh, Catholic Church, were there any murderous facists you didn't support?
posted by rodgerd at 1:04 PM on November 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Not to mention the fact that the V2 was built by prisoners (slaves is more accurate) at Mittelbau-Dora.
posted by Harry at 1:07 PM on November 4, 2009

Those crazy zionists.

Nazi-hunting was actually very rational. Fucking with the Jews has been a favored pastime in Europe and elsewhere for more than a thousand years, and the message the Nazi-hunters were sending was: fuck with the Jews and we will kill you.

The Israelis are a martial people, not by choice, but because the world forced them to be. There's very little craziness in their approach to things.
posted by killdevil at 1:22 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Malkin's account is the highly readable Eichmann In My Hands. It gives his account of the operation and how he got to know Eichmann during the latter's captivity at Garibaldi street. It also gives some unsentimental insight into the founding of the modern Israeli state.

The Israeli's got Eichmann because nobody else cared. They were too busy with stay-behind operations
posted by xpermanentx at 1:44 PM on November 4, 2009

Mod note: comments removed - that's a week off, please don't, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:09 PM on November 4, 2009

I was just reading the Nuremberg chapter in a Göring bio this afternoon. It probably shouldn't be shocking how much sympathy he generated for himself and Germany at that moment, but it still is. No wonder Eichman found folks willing to look the other way for him.

Re: cold calculations that excuse hideous crimes; there's a similar story that went on with the Japanese who were doing hideous human experiments; the Western powers covered it up after the war: MacArthur secretly granted immunity to the physicians of Unit 731 in exchange for providing America with their research on biological warfare.
posted by mediareport at 2:19 PM on November 4, 2009

Eichmann, that's the guy from David Beckham's top isn't it? (Sorry, no image was forthcoming)

There's very little craziness in their approach to things.

Sociopathic tendencies are often considered crazy, AFAIK. YMMV.
posted by asok at 3:23 PM on November 4, 2009

Well according to Hannah Arendt, who covered the trial in Isreal, Eichmann was found to be disturbingly "normal", at least not certifiably crazy. (One psychologist did supposedly say "He is more normal than me after I've examined him.") Which contributed to the title of her book, "The banality of evil". The absence of craziness makes the whole thing much more disturbing. (Speaking of disturbing, one of my friends dressed up as Dr Josef Mengele this Halloween. ...)
posted by yoHighness at 4:05 PM on November 4, 2009

I think we need to separate the value of the knowledge gained from these events on a different scale than the crimes committed by the people.

As far as Adolf Eichmann goes, I have no qualms with that. I'm glad he was hunted like an animal for years, and was caught, tried and met his end on a rope.

Regarding the other historical comments in this thread:

Should we destroy the knowledge that can be gained to do some from of good, or should be destroy such knowledge as "evil" as the processes to achieve it?

Hypothetical situation - a doctor is arrested for testing a series of experimental drug on humans for years on an isolated island. He or she has made extensive progress on curing/mitigating several different, very common diseases. The human cost is horrific. The scientist has killed thousands in his search for these cures. The research is significantly beyond traditional research, as he has operated outside of the legal and ethical restraints that bind, for just purposes, world scientists.

Should the research be destroyed? Should he be allowed to continue his research, without the subjects, imprisoned in a lab? Should he be given the death penalty, and destroy any chance of using his mind for a better purpose? It may take many years to catch up to what he/she has done. Many more people could die if the knowledge is obtained through ethical means.

I can defend and see the logic in Operation Paperclip to a certain degree, and the Unit 731 agreement was an "expediency" and "necessary evil," however stomach turning, to accept at that time to ensure, at the least, knowledge of biological weapons research came into the US's hands and not another. (Biological Weapons research is also about stopping or mitigating a biological attack, as well as its offensive use. At the very least, helped show the futility of a biological attack and it's effect of friendly forces and civilians. It's idiotic that they did not learn this after WWI; new generation, same lesson, it seems.)

In an ideal world, you wouldn't need to be pragmatic about such things. It looks like an ideal world is a far, far destination for humanity.
posted by chambers at 5:31 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

chambers - such a debate has happened:
In 1942 and 1943, in an effort to determine the rescue time frames for Luftwaffe pilots shot down in the North Sea, Nazi doctor Sigmund Rascher supervised the murder of as many as 90 people imprisoned at Dachau by having them immersed in freezing water and then recording their vital signs as they perished. Some were kept in the tubs until they could no longer be revived; others were first chilled and then plunged into scalding water.

Much of Rascher's data was destroyed before the Allies could recover it. But in 1946, Leo Alexander, a U.S. psychologist and consultant to the American Chief of Counsel for War Crimes—a federal department established to prosecute Germans at the Nuremberg Trials—wrote up what remained in an intelligence summary now known as the Alexander Report. For decades it formed an indelible part of physiology's body of knowledge. But that changed in 1989, when an international group of about 60 researchers, physicians, and students met in Minneapolis with representatives from Jewish organizations to discuss the ethics of citing the Dachau data in scientific research. Though the attendees did not publicly announce any conclusions, a New England Journal of Medicine paper published the following year determined that Rascher's data "cannot advance science or save human lives." To this day, by unspoken consensus, many scientists will not reference the Alexander Report.
posted by djb at 6:31 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

yoHighness, you might find interesting Ron Rosenbaum's recent highly critical piece on Hannah Arendt in Slate. It focuses on a new look at the old accusations of her own internalized anti-Semitism, offering examples that appear pretty shocking, but in passing shows particular scorn for what Rosenbaum considers the facile notion of "the banality of evil":

To my mind, the use of the phrase banality of evil is an almost infallible sign of shallow thinkers attempting to seem intellectually sophisticated. Come on, people: It's a bankrupt phrase, a subprime phrase, a Dr. Phil-level phrase masquerading as a profound contrarianism. Oooh, so daring! Evil comes not only in the form of mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash types, but in the form of paper pushers who followed evil orders. And when applied—as she originally did to Adolf Eichmann, Hitler's eager executioner, responsible for the logistics of the Final Solution—the phrase was utterly fraudulent.

Adolf Eichmann was, of course, in no way a banal bureaucrat: He just portrayed himself as one while on trial for his life. Eichmann was a vicious and loathsome Jew-hater and -hunter who, among other things, personally intervened after the war was effectively lost, to insist on and ensure the mass murder of the last intact Jewish group in Europe, those of Hungary. So the phrase was wrong in its origin, as applied to Eichmann, and wrong in almost all subsequent cases when applied generally. Wrong and self-contradictory, linguistically, philosophically, and metaphorically. Either one knows what one is doing is evil or one does not. If one knows and does it anyway, one is evil, not some special subcategory of evil. If one doesn't know, one is ignorant, and not evil. But genuine ignorance is rare when evil is going on.

posted by mediareport at 7:47 PM on November 4, 2009

such a debate has happened:

I had forgotten about Rascher's experiments. I probably had mixed it in with some of Mengele's abominations. I can agree with the NEJM paper and their decision not to reference it as valid scientific data. The structure of medicine has such a well-placed interest in repeatable methodology, the conclusions that Rascher made could never be proven (within obvious ethical means) to an extent that you could really trust the data, or the analysis of those who reported it.

I'm glad that such a serious ethical debate occurred amongst scientists and doctors. Should the data be available? Yes. Should the results be considered as solid facts in research? Absolutely not. If any of that data should give ideas and research is done properly and has given rise to medical practices that have benefited people, as it seems it has from the article you posted, the data in itself has scientific value, if taken with a grain of salt, regardless of it's origin.

I think that with the rocket scientists and physicists removed from Germany though, the ethical concerns are comparatively less. Their data was based on the hard, unchanging (known, misunderstood, or then unknown, but not variable) principles of physics, chemistry, metallurgy, etc. Replication could be done by honorable and respectable means, without the use of slaves or threat of death(to a degree that they were watched like prisoners, and knew their freedom from war crimes was substantially based on participation in the rocket programs of the US). After the war, it was a matter of when, not if, the soviets would be able to make their own atomic bomb. The potential for attaching one of those bombs on a V2 was known well before the end of the war. Given the choice of who would combine the two first, it seems quite reasonable to snatch up as many scientists as it could to prevent them from getting taken by the other side. With the stakes that high, and an atomic war seen as 'survivable' (on a national scale) by the scientists in the 40's and 50's, it was a no-brainer for the US military at the time. It wasn't a decision without ethical issues, but I think it was the correct one at the time.
posted by chambers at 8:23 PM on November 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Rafael Eitan went on to run Israeli scientific intelligence unit LAKAM, where he ran American double agent Jonathan Pollard & stole, backdoored & resold cutting edge intelligence software PROMIS (the code at the heart of Total Information Awareness) from its American developers.
posted by scalefree at 1:51 AM on November 5, 2009

chambers, I don't think the government was terribly worried about the ethical implications of what they were doing--plenty of corners were cut in the Fight Against Communism--but it really would have been a PR disaster. Remember, the whole world was watching the USSR transform from an agrarian state into an industrial titan in a single generation, and there was real fear that centralized economic planning actually worked better than the free market. If Operation Paperclip had become public knowledge, the story that would have been told was that the West was only able to keep up with the Soviets through the recruitment of Nazi scientists. Whether or not it was true--and the government would have had a really hard time refuting it--that wasn't a story anyone wanted to be told.

That particular tension is no longer with us, as we've all seen the USSR collapse under the weight of its own economic mismanagement and the Chinese begin to turn away from centralized planning after millions starved to death. But in the 1950s, the fact that capitalism would prove to be more robust than centrally-planned economics was not at all a foregone conclusion. Something like the publication of the details of Operation Paperclip would have been distressing indeed.
posted by valkyryn at 3:22 AM on November 5, 2009

While I definitely thing Eichmann got what he deserved (or well, actually, a simple death was actually better than he deserved), I think the implications of this and other similar operations are a bit troubling, and I'm not sure they should be unequivocally celebrated.

The idea of some country's, any country's, intelligence agency snatching people from another country, essentially kidnapping them, and taking them to another country against their will is certainly worrisome, I think.

It's hard to criticize the capture of Eichmann, of course, but when you look at Mossad's history of this sort of thing, like the story of Mordechai Vanunu, who blew the whistle on Israeli nuclear weapons development, and was subsequently kidnapped in Rome, brought to Israel, and spent nearly two decades in prison, it's a little more difficult to defend.

Or take the Mossad assassination of Achmed Bouchiki, an innocent Moroccan waiter living in Norway, who Mossad mistook for a Black September leader.

Which all leads into stuff like the recent CIA "rendition" of a suspected terrorist from Rome, where the "terrorist" was actually innocent, and the "rendition" was actually a kidnapping from a third country that had no knowledge of the operation.

Point is, it's not really unproblematic to let intelligence agencies do this sort of thing, it's a pretty big threat to the rule of law and due process.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 11:12 AM on November 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

mediareport, I did read the piece by Ron Rosenbaum with interest. He seems really pissed at people using the phrase "banality of evil", so he reads a bit like a twat there, condescending yet low-brow. (But his books look interesting) He puts the concept down without engaging with it at all, which sucks, because "how does bureaucracy and several degrees of separation from the shit we're causing allow us to be evil while pretending (even to ourselves) we're not" is what interests me most about the book. I'm constantly plagued by thoughts of being a mini-Eichmann e.g. by buying product X that was made causing X harm in X 3rd world country without labour rights and environmental laws, based on decisions carried out by X guy in an office with a spreadsheet.

Either one knows what one is doing is evil or one does not. If one knows and does it anyway, one is evil, not some special subcategory of evil. If one doesn't know, one is ignorant, and not evil. But genuine ignorance is rare when evil is going on.

This really made me sad. He's attacking one generalism only to trump up with a worse one. I'll throw one more pseudo-intellectual glass pearl, JK Galbraiths article on "Economics of innocent fraud". Oh shit, what a derail. Maybe best to watch some Tarantino now. GO JEWISH NAZI HUNTERS
posted by yoHighness at 3:20 PM on November 6, 2009

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