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The Jewish Press of Tampa and the Jewish Press of Pinellas County are Independently- owned biweekly Jewish community newspapers published in cooperation with and supported by the Tampa JCC & Federation and the Jewish Federation of Pinellas & Pasco Counties, respectively. Copyright © 2009-2018 The Jewish Press Group of Tampa Bay, Inc., All Rights Reserved.


 

February 23, 2018  RSS feed
Front Page

Text: T T T

New museum exhibit documents Adolph Eichmann capture intrigue

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press


Former Mossad agent Avner Avraham stands before a display in the “Operation Finale” exhibit showing Lothar Hermann, whose tip led to Adolph Eichmann’s capture, and Hermann’s daughter Sylvia, who was wooed by Eichmann’s son Klaus in Beunos Aires. Former Mossad agent Avner Avraham stands before a display in the “Operation Finale” exhibit showing Lothar Hermann, whose tip led to Adolph Eichmann’s capture, and Hermann’s daughter Sylvia, who was wooed by Eichmann’s son Klaus in Beunos Aires. Adolph Eichmann, a monstrous war criminal whose hate for Jews was legendary, was done in by young love.

That is just one of the compelling elements in the story of how Eichmann was captured in 1960 and tried for helping send millions of Jews to their deaths. The story is told in a special exhibit – Operation Finale – at the Florida Holocaust Museum in downtown St. Petersburg.

The exhibit’s title was taken from the name that agents from Mossad, Israel’s Secret Intelligence Service, gave to the real-life spy thriller project to bring Eichmann to justice. Since Eichmann played such a key role in Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution” plan to exterminate all Jews, they felt the word “finale” was appropriate for their plan to seize him in Argentina and bring him to Israel to stand trial.


Adolph Eichmann, right, in full Nazi officer uniform. Adolph Eichmann, right, in full Nazi officer uniform. Career Mossad agent Avner Avraham curated the espionage artifacts featured in the exhibit and came to St. Petersburg recently to educate museum docents on the exhibit so they can share the story with museum visitors. He is also consulting on a movie about Operation Finale, starring Ben Kingsley as Eichmann, which is set to come out later this year. Avraham said he will play a role in the movie.

The exhibition, previously in Cleveland and New York before stopping here through July 15, is the first time that the recently declassified Mossad materials from Operation Finale have been seen outside of Israel. Included in the exhibit are original 1950s and ’60s artifacts, photographs, Telly Award winning films and audio, as well as contemporary design elements and interactive features to tell a story of espionage, intrigue and, ultimately, justice served.


A Mossad agent took this photo, which was used to confirm the man posing as Ricardo Klement was Eichmann. A Mossad agent took this photo, which was used to confirm the man posing as Ricardo Klement was Eichmann. While Avraham worked for Mossad he came across boxes of long-forgotten artifacts from Operation Finale, including some original letters, a fake passport created to smuggle Eichmann out of Argentina, and the original letter that first alerted authorities that a man suspected to be Eichmann was in Buenos Aires.

The more he dug into the Mossad archives, the more he realized there was an untold story, and in time he created an exhibit in Mossad headquarters. The exhibit was closed to the public until 2011when it was placed on open display to mark the 50th anniversary of Eichmann’s trial. It made it to the U.S. two years ago.


A replica of the bullet-proof glass booth Adolph Eichmann testified from during the world’s first televised trial is on display at “Operation Finale” exhibit at the Florida Holocaust Museum. The exhibit includes the television telecast of the trial, with witness testimony. A replica of the bullet-proof glass booth Adolph Eichmann testified from during the world’s first televised trial is on display at “Operation Finale” exhibit at the Florida Holocaust Museum. The exhibit includes the television telecast of the trial, with witness testimony. A highlight of the exhibition is a replica of one of the most iconic objects of the century – a bulletproof glass booth in which the accused sat as the courtroom drama was broadcast around the globe. Because Israel had no televisions at the time, Israelis flocked to cinemas to view film of the trial.

The capture and trial were the dream of then-Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion, who in 1957 told Mossad agents he wanted them to find one very high-profile Nazi War criminal suspect and bring him to Israel to stand trial.

Blind man’s suspicions

They say love is blind, and in Operation Finale’s love story, it was literally a blind man – a Holocaust survivor who escaped death at Dachau and eventually fled to Argentina – who did Eichmann in. It was the suspicions of that blind man, Lothar Hermann, that led to the unmasking of the man responsible for transporting millions of Jews to death camps.

Hermann lived in Buenos Aires with his wife and their beautiful daughter, Sylvia, who became the object of affection from Klaus Eichmann, eldest son of Adolph Eichmann. For some reason, perhaps pride, Eichmann allowed his sons to retain their original last name while he took on the false identity of Ricardo Klement.

Klaus Eichmann visited Sylvia’s home and her father heard the young man make anti-Semitic remarks and express regret that the Nazis could not complete the extermination of the Jews. He also mentioned that his father served in the war.

The words of Sylvia’s suitor stuck with Hermann and even after he moved his family hundreds of miles from Buenos Aires, when the name Eichmann came up in reports of a Nazi trial in Germany in 1957, Hermann began to suspect Klaus Eichmann’s father was Adolph Eichmann. He sent a letter about his suspicious to Fritz Bauer, a prosecutor of Nazis who took the suspicions seriously (A movie about Fritz Bauer is being shown as part of the upcoming Tampa Bay Jewish Film Festival. See pages 18-19)

A photo of Sylvia and that original letter to Bauer are among artifacts on display at the museum. So too is the same Leica camera a Mossad agent used to take photos of the suspected war criminal – photos that confirmed the man was Eichmann. The original photos and negatives are on display, along with SS documents concerning Eichmann, including one praising his work in Hungary and documents that helped agents confirm Eichmann’s identity.

Mossad had doubts

At one point after getting the tip about Eichmann being in Buenos Aires, Mossad sent an agent who took a look at the house. The agent reported back that such a high ranking former Nazi would never live in such a humble place.

Before Mossad became convinced that Eichmann was the man posing as Ricardo Klement, Hermann learned of a $10,000 reward for Eichmann and was frustrated that his work to unmask the war criminal was being ignored. He wrote an angry letter to Nazi hunter Tuviah Friedman and Friedman passed that information along to Mossad. (It took about 10 years after the capture, but in time the reward money was split among Hermann and others in the Argentinian Jewish community.)

Not long after the angry letter, Mossad sprang into action, sending agents to Buenos Aires, finding Eichmann’s new home and spending months learning his daily routine before they kidnapped him on May 11, 1960 and hid him for 10 days before they were able to smuggle him onto an El Al plane.

The exhibit shows an original Hertz receipt for rental of one of the cars used in tailing Eichmann, the same mask they used to blindfold Eichmann when they captured him, and silhouette figures with information about the 11 agents sent to Argentina for the capture. The original kit that Mossad agents used to make keys and fake license plates for the cars that tailed Eichmann is also part of the exhibit.

El Al had never flown to Argentina, so the flight to Buenos Aires was passed off as a one-time mission of Israeli delegates to help celebrate Argentina’s 150th birthday. Documents relating to the anniversary celebration are on display, as well as original tickets used by the agents to fly on different airlines to Argentina to track and capture Eichmann.

Mossad agents planned to pass off Eichmann as an El Al flight crew member if Argentinian authorities challenged his boarding at the airport. They also feared authorities might get suspicious once Eichmann was on the plane, so they built a hidden compartment next to the airplane’s bathroom in which to hide him, a detail Avraham said is not in the exhibit.

Since agents knew Eichmann would be drugged before boarding – to keep him ambulatory but lessen the chance he would alert police – they created a cover story that the flight crewman was woozy from an illness.

A Mossad agent went to a local hospital the night before the El Al flight back to Israel and faked an illness so they could have hospital papers, bearing the same fake name on Eichmann’s passport, if stopped for questioning. Argentinian authorities did not challenge the boarding, however, and days after Eichmann was brought to Israel, news of his capture was announced on May 23.

Eichmann’s trial, the first ever to be televised, began April 11, 1961 and though he claimed he was just following orders, he was convicted on all 15 counts and was hanged on May 31, 1961. The museum exhibit carries film of the trial with tearful testimony by witnesses to Eichmann’s atrocities and graphic footage of some of the dead at Nazi death camps. The execution of Eichmann remains the only time that Israel has enacted a death sentence. The case sent a clear message to Nazi war criminals that they would be hunted.

On display at the museum is a comment from Eichmann: “To sum it all up, I regret nothing.”

If you go

The Florida Holocaust Museum is located at 55 Fifth St. S., St. Petersburg. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, but the last admission is 4 p.m.

Admission to Operation Finale is included with regular admission; $16 for adults, $14 for seniors

(65+), $10 for college students and $8 for those 18 and younger. Docent-led group tours are available for an additional fee.

For more information, call (727) 820-0100 or go to flholocaustmuseum.org.


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