Mossad's hunt for the other Adolf: Spy agency's search for Eichmann revealed

Story highlights

  • An exhibition documenting Mossad's capture of German Nazi Adolf Eichmann has just opened
  • 'Operation Finale: The Story of the Capture of Eichmann' is curated by an active Mossad field agent
  • The exhibit follows the evolution of Mossad and the capture of one of it's most high profile targets
  • Mossad agent: '"It was our first big 'James Bond' operation'

It's not every day you meet an active field agent of Israel's super secret spy agency, the Mossad. Generally, if you did, you wouldn't know it.

But there he was, taking us on a tour of "Operation Finale: The Story of the Capture of Eichmann" before the V.I.P. guests arrived for opening night. This spy is the curator of the extraordinary exhibit of recently declassified spycraft chronicling the capture of Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust.

It's a passionate side project to document one of Mossad's most famous successes. I can't use his name and we couldn't film him, but he told us why he spent months in the archive.

"It was our first big 'James Bond' operation. I knew we had the material in the archive," he says, "but until today, people only knew a small part of the story, we had to tell the whole thing."

The story starts with Eichmann, a German SS officer put in charge of orchestrating the "final solution," the Nazi plan to kill all of the Jews in Europe, during World War Two in the early 1940s.

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Eichmann was the chief logistician, organizing transport for millions of Jews to the gas chambers. In the waning years of the war, when Nazis were trying to destroy all evidence of the Holocaust and halted the killing, Eichmann insisted on continuing his evil work.

At the end of World War Two, Eichmann escaped and evaded capture several times. He was a wanted man, but the trail went dry.

    But in the 1950s, word began to reach Mossad and Israel's domestic security service, Shin Bet, that Adolf Eichmann was hiding in Buenos Aires using the name "Ricardo Klement." At first, agents sent to Argentina didn't believe that the shabby suburb where Klement lived could be the residence of a senior Nazi officer.

    Agents then traveled to Argentina to take photos of the man who called himself Klement. They pretended to be property investors. The small Leica camera, a simple converted business case with a secret camera trigger, and original photographs, are part of the "Operation Finale" exhibit. The agents took the negatives to a developing shop in town and got three shots of an ordinary looking man standing over a barbed wire fence.

    But Adolf Eichmann was no ordinary man.

    The covert pictures were compared to SS photos in Mossad's files. A 10-point analysis of his ears (apparently ears are unique) told Mossad they had their man.

    Avi Armoni, the CEO of the Museum of the Jewish People, says the exhibit shows the evolution of Mossad, then in its early days. "Even the mighty Mossad started with improvising solutions," says Armoni.

    And it's painstakingly documented in an exhibit crammed with originals: the crudely made license plates; the fake passports used by agents, the metal syringe used to drug Eichmann.

    "What people react to in museums, aside from the story, is to see original artifacts, to feel that they are in the presence of the real thing," he says. "And to all of us it symbolized evil, it symbolized the Holocaust, it symbolized the notion of justice."

    To bring Adolf Eichmann to justice, 11 agents traveled to Argentina under assumed names. Dozens of Jews living in Argentina helped provide the cover needed to succeed. The agents put Eichmann in an El Al crew uniform and shoved him into a Pontiac. They slipped him onto a special El Al flight and spirited him out of Argentina.

    In April 1961, the trial of Adolf Eichmann began in Jerusalem. During nine months of testimony, the world was astounded by the personal testimony of 120 witnesses (99 of them Holocaust survivors).

    The impact was greatest in Israel.

    "I grew up in Israel. I was born here," says Armoni. "The whole notion for young Israelis growing up here -- of the Shoah, of the Holocaust -- was very much not spoken of, it was hidden, we were in shock."

    "The capture of Adolf Eichmann -- bringing him to court and to justice in Jerusalem -- was for so many Israelis of my generation a watershed event. It actually brought out the stories and the horror of what happened to the Jews in Europe."

    The "Operation Finale" exhibit ends with the actual bulletproof glass booth where Adolf Eichmann sat impassively during the duration of the nine-month trial. The message is clear. The agents who painstakingly tracked down and captured Eichmann were after one thing: justice.

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