by Neal Bascomb
The story finally is told how Holocaust survivors and Israel’s spies found the mastermind of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution,” the hideously well-organized plan that murdered six million Jews during World War II.
The subject of the quest, Adolf Eichmann, was the diabolical brain behind the extermination plan. It wasn’t until 15 years after the war ended that he was finally found and, after a lengthy trial that was front-page news around the world, hanged for his genocidal crimes.
It’s a helluva story, nonfiction that reads like a modern mystery with twists and turns, dead ends, near misses and tiny details that yield huge payoffs.
How Israel’s Mossad — helped by tips from survivors of the Nazi death camps — tracked Adolf Eichmann to Argentina and a miserable shack with no electricity or running water is nothing short of a miracle.
How Eichmann escaped Germany as World War II came to a crashing end around him could be seen as miraculous as well. How this wanted war criminal made his way to South America, however, includes a segment that will cause shame for members of the Catholic community.
Part of the network that helped Nazis escape, Bascomb’s research uncovered, included Bishop Alois Hudal, “an Austrian and a devotee of Hitler who proudly brandished his golden Nazi Party membership badge.”
Bishop Hudal personally wrote to Argentine dictator Juan Peron to request visa for 5,000 Germans and Austrians.
A string of monasteries and convents in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Italy served as refuge to hide and smuggle Nazis away from prosecution, and Eichmann took advantage, finally making his way across Europe to Genoa, Italy, and the Church of San Antonio. Franciscan Father Edoardo Domoter, a Hungarian sympathetic to fleeing Nazi’s, sheltered him in the rectory there while Eichmann secured a refugee’s passport from Red Cross officials and a visa from the Argentine consulate, and soon was on the passenger ship Giovanna C headed to South America with a number of other former Nazi bigwigs.
Bascomb notes that, while cardinals and priests were involved in helping war criminals escape prosecution, “Pope Pius XII did not officially approve of the Vatican’s involvement in the network, but he certainly turned a blind eye to it, primarily because of the church’s commitment to act as a bulwark against the spread of communism.”
Amazingly detailed research
The capture of Eichmann and especially the deception required to hide him and then spirit him out of Argentina to stand trial in Israel are as close to against-all-odds material as any fiction writer might dream up.
The fact that the Israelis were able to pull it off — find him, first of all, grab him off the street, secret him away for a number of days and whisk him off to Israel in the first El Al plane ever to visit Argentina — is terrific storytelling.
Pulling all the pieces of the story together through interviews and historical documents is truly the work of a gifted writer and team of researchers. The 327-page Houghton Mifflin Harcourt book includes an additional 27 pages of verifying footnotes and helpful bibliography and index. Photos taken with hidden suitcase cameras, maps of Eichmann’s Argentine neighborhood and even Eichmann’s Red Cross passport — using the alias Riccardo Klement — bring life and authenticity to the pages.
The world cannot forget
What Bascomb adds, though, as icing on the cake, is the reason that bringing Eichmann to trial on Israeli soil was so important for the Jewish people, especially for the younger generations of Israelis but even more importantly for the world. Bascomb writes in his epilogue:
“As for the rest of the world, the Eichmann affair rooted the Holocaust in the collective cultural consciousness. . . . The Holocaust was finally anchored in the world’s consciousness — never to be forgotten — by the outpouring of survivor memoirs, scholarly works, plays, novels, documentaries, paintings, museum exhibits, and films that followed in the wake of the trial and that still continues today. This consciousness, in Israel and throughout the world, is the enduring legacy of the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann.”
This is history every human should know. — bz