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Authors: Neal Bascomb

Hunting Eichmann

Hunting Eichmann

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

Neal Bascomb


Copyright © 2009 by Neal Bascomb


For information about permission to reproduce
selections from this book, write to Permissions,
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,
215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Bascomb, Neal.
Hunting Eichmann : how a band of survivors and
a young spy agency chased down the world's
most notorious Nazi / Neal Bascomb.
p. cm.
1. Eichmann, Adolf, 1906–1962. 2. War criminals—
Germany—Biography. 3. Fugitives from justice—Argentina
—Biography. 4. Secret service—Israel. I. Title.
37 2009
943.086092—dc22 2008035757

Book design by Melissa Lotfy

Diagram by Michael Prendergast

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Justice should not only be done, but should
manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.
—Lord Chief Justice Gordon Hewart, 1924
...And you have come, our precious enemy,
Forsaken creature, man ringed by death.
What can you say now, before our assembly?
—Primo Levi, "For Adolf Eichmann," 1960



For three weeks now the team tracking him had watched their target return from work to his small brick bunker of a house on Garibaldi Street. Every night was the same: At 7:40
bus 203 stopped at the kiosk on the narrow highway 110 yards from the corner of Garibaldi Street; the man exited the bus; another passenger, a woman, also exited at the same stop. They separated. Sometimes the man stopped at the kiosk for a pack of cigarettes, but this never took more than a minute. Then he crossed the street and walked toward his house. If a car approached, he turned on his flashlight—one end red, the other white—to signal his presence. When he reached his property, he circled the house once before entering, as if checking that all was secure. Inside, he greeted his wife and young son, lit a few additional kerosene lamps, and then sat down for dinner. He was a man of precise routines and schedules. His predictability made him vulnerable.

But on this night, Wednesday, May 11, 1960, 7:40 passed, and neither bus 203 nor the man was in sight. The team waited in two cars. One black Chevrolet sedan was parked on the edge of Route 202, facing toward the bus stop. Once the man showed, if he showed, the driver in the backup car would flick on his headlights to blind him before he turned left toward his house. The capture car, a black Buick limousine, was stationed on Garibaldi Street between the highway and the man's home. The driver, in a chauffeur's uniform, had popped the hood to give the impression that the limousine had broken down. Two other men stood outside the car in the cold, windy night, pretending to fiddle with the engine. These two were the strongmen, tasked with grabbing the target and getting him into the car—as quietly and quickly as possible.

At 7:44, a bus finally approached on Route 202, but it drove straight past the kiosk. The team could only wait so long in this isolated neighborhood on the northern outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, without attracting too much attention. There was only a scattering of houses on the flat, nearly treeless plain. Cars foreign to the neighborhood stood out.

The team leader, hidden in the limousine's back seat, insisted that they stay despite the risks. There was no argument from the team. Not now, not at this critical hour. The man must not be allowed to elude capture.

Exactly fifteen years previously, in the last days of the Third Reich, SS lieutenant colonel Adolf Eichmann, chief of Department IVB
of the Reich Security Main Office and the operational manager of the Nazi genocide, had escaped into the Austrian Alps. He had been listed as killed in action by the woman who now impatiently waited for her husband's return from work. He had been sought by Allied investigators and independent Nazi-hunters such as Simon Wiesenthal. He had reportedly been executed by Jewish avengers. He had been rumored to be living in West Germany, England, Kuwait, the United States, and even Israel. His trail had gone from hot to cold to hot again.

He had been so successful at hiding his identity that the Mossad agents now in position on Garibaldi Street were still not 100 percent certain that the man they had come to capture was actually Eichmann. A contingency plan, one of many, was in place if it turned out not to be him. Nonetheless, they were sufficiently convinced to stage a dangerous operation on foreign soil involving more than ten agents, including the head of the Israeli secret service himself. They had read Eichmann's file and been thoroughly briefed on his role in the mass murder of Jews. They were professionals, but it was impossible for them to be impartial about this mission. Since arriving in Argentina, one agent kept seeing the faces of the members of his family who had been killed in the Holocaust.

They could wait a few more minutes for bus 203.

At 8:05, the team saw another faint halo of light in the distance. Moments later, the bus's headlights shone brightly down the highway, piercing the darkness. Brakes screeched, the bus door clattered open, and the two passengers stepped down onto the street. As the bus pulled away, the woman turned off to the left, moving away from the man. The man headed for Garibaldi Street, bent forward in the wind. His hands were stuffed into his coat. Thunder cracked in the distance, warning of a storm. It was time for Adolf Eichmann to answer for what he had done.


, a concentration camp built beside a granite quarry on the northern edge of the Danube River in upper Austria, Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann stood at the head of a long column of 140 command cars and trucks. It was noon on Sunday, March 19, 1944, and he was thirty-eight years old to the day.

Dressed in his pale gray SS uniform, he looked to be a man with the sympathies and humor of a piece of granite. He had fine, dark blond hair, narrow lips, a long nose, and grayish blue eyes. His skull turned sharply inward at his temples, a feature only accentuated by the peaked cap now drawn over his head. Of medium height, he held his trim frame slightly forward, as if he was a tracker on a fresh trail. As he watched his men prepare to move out, the left corner of his mouth twitched unconsciously, drawing his face into a temporary scowl.

The convoy carrying more than five hundred members of the SS was ready. Down the line of vehicles, engines rumbled to life, and black exhaust spewed out across the road. Eichmann climbed into his Mercedes staff car and signaled for the motorcycle troops leading the column to advance toward Budapest, following the trail blazed by the First Panzer Division.

Twelve hours before, eleven Wehrmacht divisions had stormed across the Hungarian border while paratroopers had dropped into the historic capital city to seize strategic government buildings and positions. Adolf Hitler had ordered the occupation of the country to prevent the Axis partner from pursuing an armistice with the Allies now that the Red Army was advancing from the east.

As the column of vehicles sped away from Mauthausen, Eichmann expected that in a few months, this camp and its satellites would be filled with more Jewish slave laborers to work in the quarries and surrounding munitions, steel, and airplane factories. "Send down the Master in person," Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler had ordered, referring to Eichmann in his instructions to comb Hungary from east to west of its Jews. Those who were physically fit were to be delivered to labor camps for "destruction through work"; those who were not were to be exterminated immediately. Eichmann's mission was a secondary, but critical, one in the invasion of Hungary. He inflated with pride at the confidence Himmler had shown in him by charging him to oversee the operation personally. Eichmann would stop at nothing to live up to his new moniker, "the Master." He gathered all of his senior, most effective officers from across Europe to aid in his efforts.

With the German army already encircling Budapest, the SS column met little resistance and made easy progress into Hungary. Along the 250-mile route to the capital, Eichmann's staff felt confident enough to take a break and gather around him to toast his birthday with a bottle of rum. Besides this stop and two for refueling, Eichmann had nothing to do on the journey but chain-smoke and further consider his strategy to eliminate 725,000 Jews from Hungary as rapidly as possible, without any uprisings (as had happened in Poland) or mass escapes (as in Denmark). Those two operations colored his thoughts as the mile-long convoy advanced down the road with a thunderous roar.

In devising his plan for Hungary over the past weeks, Eichmann had been able to draw on his eight years of experience overseeing Jewish affairs for the SS. As chief of Department IVB
, he was responsible for executing Hitler's policy to annihilate the Jews. Eichmann ran his office as if he was the division head of an international conglomerate. He set ambitious targets; he recruited and delegated to effective subordinates; he traveled frequently to keep tabs on their progress; he studied what worked and failed and adjusted accordingly; he made sure to account to his bosses in charts and figures how effective he had been. His position required navigating frequent policy changes, legal restrictions, and turf wars. And although he wore a uniform, he measured success not in battles won but instead in schedules met, quotas filled, efficiencies realized, guidelines followed, and units moved. Operations he had managed in Austria, Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Slovakia, Romania, and Poland had revealed to him the best methods to realize this success. Now he intended to bring these to Hungary.

The first stage of his plan focused on isolating the Jews. Orders would be issued to require the wearing of the Yellow Star, to prohibit travel and the use of phones and radios, and to ban Jews from the civil service and scores of other professions. He had more than a hundred such measures aimed at identifying and removing the Jews from Hungarian society. The next stage would secure their wealth for the Third Reich's coffers. Bank accounts would be frozen. Factories and businesses owned by Jews would be expropriated and the assets of every single individual plundered, down even to their ration cards. Next came ghettoization, uprooting Jews from their homes and concentrating them together until the final, fourth stage could be effected: deportation to the camps. Once they arrived there, another SS department was responsible for their fate.

To prevent any escapes or uprisings, Eichmann intended to launch a campaign of deception in all four stages. He planned on meeting face-to-face with Jewish leaders to reassure them that the measures restricting their community were only temporary necessities of war. As long as these leaders, organized in a council, saw to their implementation, he would promise that no harm would come to their community. Bribes would be taken from the Jews on the promise of better treatment, a move that not only extorted more Jewish wealth but also gave the impression that individuals could be saved if they met German demands. Eichmann also thought it best to initiate stages three and four in the most remote districts, leaving Budapest, where there was the greatest chance of an organized resistance, until last. Even when the Jews were forced onto the trains, they were to be told that they were being relocated for their own safety or to supply labor for Germany. These deceptions might be seen for what they were, but they would buy enough time and acquiescence that brute force could do the rest.

For all these plans, Eichmann knew he needed the assistance and manpower of the Hungarian authorities. Given his limited staff of 150, winning their cooperation was going to be his first order of business once he arrived in Budapest. Otherwise, his shipment schedules for Auschwitz, Mauthausen, and other camps would run late.

When they reached Budapest, the German army was in the midst of taking positions throughout the streets while squadrons of fighter planes with black crosses on their wings buzzed low over the Danube. Gestapo agents fanned out across the city to arrest prominent Hungarians who might resist the occupation. There were hundreds of Jews on their lists. Eichmann established his command at the grand Hotel Majestic, which stood on a forested hill west of the old city of Buda. Sentry posts and three rings of barbed wire were placed around the hotel, while guards with German shepherds were brought in to patrol the grounds.

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