It was one of the starkest of its, or any other, time.
Adolf Eichmann, to his families’ victims one of the masterminds of the Holocaust but by his own description an ordinary, Jewish-loving functionary following orders, sitting behind the glass while being put on trial in Israeli on behalf of the Jewish people will continue to haunt us for years to come.
In her classic work, Eichmann in Jerusualem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, philosopher, writer and former lover of Martin Heidegger Hannah Arendt focused on Eichmann’s lack of hostility toward Jews, his ordinariness.
In addition to arousing widespread enmity among people who felt that she accused the Judenrat as being complicit in their community’s destruction, Arendt and her interpretation have become widely used, if not universally accepted.
A new book by Neal Bascomb challenges Arendt’s vision.
In Hunting Eichmann, Bascomb tells the story of Eichmann’s capture in Argentina by Israelis and reveals a man who actively knew and relished the mass murder he designed and helped carry out.
Many thanks to dear friend Ava Kadishshon Schieber for lending me the book.
Bascomb’s work is a gripping account of a daring mission carried out at great risk and for which the stakes could not be higher. Each person involved in stalking, apprehending and flying Eichmann back to Israel knew that he or she was participating in a higher cause-to bring some vengeance and justice to the world.
It was a delicate operation that took more than 15 years to realize.
Bascomb opens the book just before Eichmann’s capture, pivots back to the war and the survival of Zeev Sapir, who later would be one of the survivors who testified against Eichmann.
He then moves through Eichmann’s escape and refuge in Argentina, where he lived among a veritable collection of World War II-era fascists of all stripes.
The chase for Eichmann was fitful, starting and then stopping for years at a time. Bascomb picks up the action in the period when he was identified.
I will not give too many details, but will simply say that the planning was enormously intricate and fraught with danger. One wrong move and he could be gone, forever.
One of the most fascinating parts of the book is Bascomb’s description of the mixed emotions his captors feel toward the high level Nazi. At different points nearly everyone involved with the mission must restrain himself or herself from attacking and killing Eichmann because of the heinous actions he took.
But boredom at the long wait once he was captured and before the El Al plane arrived set in, too. So did bewilderment that this harmless, compliant and even pathetic man could have been responsible for so much murder, including some of the families of the people involved in the mission.
The trial, which is the focus of Arendt’s work, feels more like a coda to the dizzying action Bascomb has skillfully laid out in cinematic and page-turing form in the preceding 300 pages.
He ends the book with a poignant moment between one of Eichmann’s captors and his dieing mother, with whom he shares his role in snaring the notorious Nazi, who was responsible for his sister’s death.
The tender connection in which a devoted son gifts his mother peace of mind before she passes is a fitting moment to wind up this fast-paced and emotionally rich work that adds to our understanding of one of the most notorious Nazis and keeps us turning the pages as fast as we can along the way.