Hunting Eichmann by Neal Bascomb (♦♦♦♦♦)

How a Band of Survivors and a Young Spy Agency Chased Down the World's Most Notorious Nazi

On May 11, 1960, a core of eight agents of the combined Israeli security agencies Shin Bet and Mossad, kidnapped Adolf Eichmann on his way home from work on Garibaldi Street, a neighborhood in the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Ten days later, the prisoner was smuggled out of the country as a crew member of the first El Al flight to ever visit Argentina. The ultimate goal was to prosecute Eichmann in an Israeli court for his war crimes against the Jewish people.

But Eichmann's evasion of justice was fifteen years in the making. In 1945, when it became clear that Germany had lost the war, Eichmann first went to Austria, later returning to Germany where he was taken prisoner twice by the Allies. He managed to escape both times from POW camps because up to that point his role in the extermination of millions of Jews wasn't well known. His role in the Holocaust became public during the Nuremberg trials.

Meanwhile, he lived in hiding in a forest community where he fell trees and raised chickens. In 1950, with the help of former Nazis, Eichmann made his way across the Alps to Austria and then Italy, where with the help of a Catholic bishop with Nazi sympathies he was able to obtain a false identity, apply for a Red Cross passport and gain legal entry in Argentina under the protection of Juan Perón's regime.

The first few years after the war, there was some interest in finding and judging Eichmann by the Allies, but with the impending threat of communism, the recently formed spy agencies in America and West Germany recruited former Nazi officers and went back to business as usual. Only Nazi hunters Simon Wiesenthal and Tuviah Friedman kept hoping Eichmann would be caught.

In the mid fifties, German prosecutor Fritz Bauer, who was trying a former Nazi for war crimes, first got news of Eichmann possibly having been living in Argentina. Further correspondence revealed his home address. But it wasn't until 1960 that things got heated enough, that David Ben-Gurion, Israel's Prime Minister, authorized the capture.

During the first few years of the war, the relocation and deportation of Jews was the standard Nazi policy. During those years Eichmann became an expert in Jewish affairs. In 1941 the total extermination of the Jewish population of Europe became standard policy. The Wannsee Conference in 1942 attracted the top fifteen experts in Jewish affairs in the SS; Eichmann was one of the attendees.

At Wannsee he proposed and explained how best to execute what was known as The Final Solution to the Jewish Question (deportation and mass extermination). He was sent all across Europe to deal with Jewish communities and personally supervised the transportation of millions of Jews (6 million by his own admission) to hard labor and concentration camps and thus to their deaths. He refined and adjusted his methods accordingly each country at a time. By war's end, his brutality knew no limits.

I first learned more than the run-of-the-mill history lesson when I started reading Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series. The second, third, and fourth installment in the series (i.e. The English Assassin, The Confessor, and A Death in Vienna) form a trilogy about the Holocaust; while these novels are fiction, the historical backgrounds are all too real. That’s how I first encountered Eichmann in my reading. Later learned of Hunting Eichmann through one of Google’s targeted ads (who knew they could be useful?!). I didn’t buy it until very recently when I decided that $10 for this book wasn’t that bad. Thank goodness I bought it!

Hunting Eichmann reads like something urgent, a message that can neither be ignored nor forgotten. It reads like a gripping spy novel, and it's unclear to me whether that is a blessing or a curse, because the danger of missing the lesson entirely, however unlikely that may be, could prove costly. Furthermore, Hunting Eichmann is a stirring account of the main players’ paths to that time in history—Eichmann’s, the capture team’s, as well as the witnesses’.

Hunting Eichmann is enlightening in many ways, one being the road a man takes from basic decency to becoming a monster, from normalcy to fanatic nationalism that ends in collective psychosis.

Hunting Eichmann is not a light reading at all, though it’s very fast-paced. I took nearly two weeks reading it because I read every paragraph two or three times since the book is jam-packed with historical information of which I’m a junkie. It depicts the graphic Nazi brutality that is often sugar-coated in fiction books and period films. While it’s not recommended for the faint of heart, it is strongly recommended to as many readers as possible. Ignore the message at your own peril.