Nate: Hi everyone, today we’re discussing the book “Hunting Eichmann”, by Neal Bascomb, which focuses on the search for the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in the years following World War II. I have to say, Dave, I didn’t know a lot of the details surrounding Eichmann, the search for him, and the way he was actually tracked down and captured. But it was almost like a Hollywood script, to be honest.
Dave: I agree. This has to be one of the most intriguing manhunts of a Nazi criminal following World War II. He lived such a non-descript life in South America – really a meek existence, and kind of faded into the background. But the search for him never completely died, and one slip-up finally did him in.
Nate: For those who don’t know, Adolf Eichmann was a leader in the Nazi party, who had a hand in many of the atrocities that took place within the concentration camps during the Holocaust. But after the war, he managed to escape capture and eventually fled to Argentina, where he lived for years.
Dave: I have to say, I always find it interesting that the Nazi leaders, such as Eichmann were able to separate the evil they were doing from the “job” they were performing. The excuse always seemed to be that they were just doing their job, or doing their duty, or following orders. The evil almost wasn’t real for them because in their minds it was just what they had to do. Somehow, they were able to separate a job, from the morality of being a human being.
Nate: And this was completely true of Eichmann. When he was living in South America, years after the Holocaust, he convinced himself that what he did in the concentration camps, all the death and murder he was responsible for, was just something he had to do. He even went so far as to claim that he felt no animosity towards the Jewish people, and that he felt he was a friend of the Jews. It’s hard to believe someone could dilute themselves that much, but he obviously did.
Dave: What about the whole story of how he was actually found in South America?
Nate: As I said, the whole manhunt almost has a Hollywood feel to it. The few people who were still interested in bringing Nazi war criminals to justice in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s had practically given up on finding him, because there were no fresh leads. There were rumors of his whereabouts all over the world, but no one was really sure where he was until his son, in Argentina, made some comments to the father of a girl he was dating which aroused suspicion.
Dave: It seemed like a harmless little comment, but he said it to the wrong guy, because it made its ways to Germany, eventually to Israel, and the Israeli Intelligence Agency, the Mossad.
Nate: And that was where the book simply took off for me. Finding out how the Mossad orchestrated the capture and removal of Eichmann was astounding, because Argentina was known for being friends with, and harboring Nazi war criminals. They were not going to assist the Mossad with Eichmann’s capture and extradition.
Dave: That’s right. They had to go into Argentina without anyone knowing they were there, do surveillance on him, determine whether this man really was Eichmann, capture him, detain him, and then remove him from the country without anyone knowing they were ever there.
Nate: The way they did it was incredible. They handpicked the members of the team that would participate, many of whom had either been in concentration camps during the war, or had loved ones murdered by the Nazis. Everyone involved felt a higher calling for the mission, and knew how important it was.
Dave: But yet, as emotional as it was for the agents involved, there was a deep sense of professionalism, in terms of how they did their jobs, and how they treated Eichmann once they captured him.
Nate: There were some rumblings initially about wanting to kill him once they got him, but that was put to rest quickly by cooler, professional heads, as you said, understanding the significance of capturing him and putting him on trial to face his crimes in front of the world.
Dave: How about all of the planning, and hoops they had to go through to make sure every detail of their plan worked?
Nate: Exactly. For every small detail they came up with for the overall plan, they had to think of twenty different things that could go wrong, and the ways they could overcome each of those problems. It was absolutely fascinating to see this in action. And then during the capture and removal, to see what parts of the plan went right and wrong, and how it all actually played out, was incredible as well. Again, much of it was almost like it had been written for Hollywood.
Dave: What heroes stood out to you in the book?
Nate: I thought Fritz Hauber, the German official who relayed the information of Eichmann’s whereabouts to Israel, was pretty gutsy. He knew his actions could be considered treasonous, but he also knew that his government, if armed with that information, would do little or nothing to bring Eichmann to justice. And then, of course, the Mossad agents and other Israelis involved in the capture.
Dave: I thought the “Nazi Hunters” who kept searching for Eichmann over the years, such as Simon Wiesenthal and Tuviah Friedman deserve a lot of credit, not necessarily for the actual capture, but they were always pushing government leaders to keep up the search, and tracking down information. At the trial, much of the evidence that was used against Eichmann came from information those guys managed to scrounge up in the fifteen years after the war.
Nate: One of the best things about this book is how I think it would appeal to a lot of different readers. Certainly if you like reading about history or World War II, you would find this book fascinating. But I think it would also appeal to readers of fiction, who like thrillers, suspense, and international intrigue as well. It almost reads like an exciting fictional story.
Dave: I completely agree. I also like how it fills in the gaps of history. I think that a lot of people have heard of Eichmann, know he was a Nazi, and maybe even know it took years to track him down and capture him. But this gives all the amazing details you would never find in a history book. You really get to know the people who were involved, which makes it seem more personal and real.
Nate: I couldn’t agree more. I think what we’re both saying is that this is definitely a book worth reading, for many reasons, and would appeal to many readers!