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The Mideast

Israeli Spy Recounts Daring Mission When He Captured Nazi Adolf Eichmann, Architect of the 'Final Solution’

  • Rafi Eitan-Israeli Spy

    Rafi Eitan, Israeli spy recounts daring mission when he captured ‘Nazi Final Solution’ architect.

  • Rafi Eitan

    Rafi Eitan, Israeli spy recounts daring mission.

Holocaust survivors often refer to the "banality of evil" when describing how remarkably ordinary even the highest-ranking Nazis seemed after their capture for aiding the mass murder of more than 6 million Jews during World War II.

At a gathering for International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camps, Rafi Eitan looks like any other aging great-uncle: hearing aids, thick glasses, and a gray sweater under his blazer. His demeanor and appearance is much more fitting an aging insurance salesman than James Bond. The casual observer would give him the highest compliment for an intelligence field operative: There is simply no way he could be a spy.

"I knew we are doing something (that) will be in Jewish history, maybe world history, will be written as one of the just operations," he said, perhaps giving away that behind his kind and quiet smile is a man who embodies the banality of greatness.  

The only thing that betrays his past is the twinkle that comes to his eyes when he tells the story of a spy mission so daring, so incredible, so brilliantly executed that it’s still held as the gold standard for intelligence services worldwide.

Eitan led the Israeli Mossad team that captured Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi architect of the Holocaust, on a street in Argentina and brought him to Israel for trial in 1960.

Eichmann had been in charge of organizing the Holocausts’ “Final Solution" -- the Nazi plan to exterminate Jewish people -- right down to the schedules of Death Trains to the camps.

Like many Nazi war criminals, Eichmann escaped to Argentina in the confusion following WWII.
He lived under the name Ricardo Klement while working various jobs and living with his family, whom he had brought from Germany. Rumors began leaking out of Argentina in the mid-1950s that Eichmann was there.

Famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal received a postcard from a friend who said he saw Eichmann on the street, and slowly Israel's intelligence services began closing in on him.
For months, surveillance teams trailed Eichmann, trying to match pictures of him to those from his days in the SS.

Finally, they sent word back to Tel Aviv that they thought they had their man.

Israel, as a country, was less than two decades old. The Mossad was very adept at operating in Israel and the Arab world, but Argentina was a very long way from home.

Mossad officers hatched a plan so simple, yet so daring, that it would stun the world. A Mossad team would fly to Buenos Aires as part of the Israeli delegation to celebrate Argentina's 150th birthday. The team would then kidnap "Klement" as he came home from work, verify that it was indeed Eichmann, and smuggle him out of the country.

What if Eichmann put up a fight? What if someone saw them snatch him? What if his family called the Argentinean authorities when he didn't come home? Everything had to work perfectly: just one wrong turn, one observant cop, one contingency unplanned for could land the Mossad team in jail and allow Eichmann to escape.

On the night of May 11, 1960, as Eichmann walked home from his bus stop, two Mossad agents were "fixing" their broken down car. One of the agents asked for a cigarette, and that’s when they grabbed him.

They threw Klement into the car and, driving into the night, one agent told him, "if you value your life...keep quiet."

Eitan ripped off the man's sleeve to check for a scar on his left arm, and pulled his shirt up to feel the scar on Eichmann's belly.

"The moment I have Eichmann, on my knees I am, saying to myself the song of the Jewish partisans which says at the end, ‘We are here and we shall return,’" Eitan remembers.
The Mossad team began questioning him and Klement finally acknowledged what the team already knew: He was Adolf Eichmann.

Next came smuggling one of the world's most wanted men out of Argentina.
They drugged Eichmann and dressed him up as an El Al airline mechanic. The Mossad team donned similar disguises and they set out for the airport talking their way passed a guard shack under the rouse that the "mechanics" in the backseat were drunk.

Eventually they made it to the El Al plane for a long flight home -- a flight where they almost ran out of fuel before making it to Dakar, in western Africa, for a scheduled stop.

Eichmann stood trial in Israel for his crimes. The proceedings were broadcast live around the world and it was one of the first times Holocaust survivors told their stories on television.

On December 15, 1961, the court of three Israeli judges convicted Eichmann and sentenced him to death by hanging.

At a reunion of those involved in Eichmann's capture and trial, Eitan looks like the kindly great-uncle with a twinkle in his eye.

“I was 51 years younger (then)," he said. "But I am able and ready to do the same thing again."

Leland Vittert currently serves as a FOX News Channel (FNC) foreign correspondent based in Jerusalem. He joined the network in 2010.