Doubts Raised on Wiesenthal’s Role in Capture of Eichmann
A legendary Israeli spy has raised doubts about famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s role in the capture of Adolf Eichmann and disclosed that Israel came within days of capturing Josef Mengele.
Isser Harel, the 78-year-old founder of Mossad, the Israeli secret service, headed the 10-member Israeli team that flew to Buenos Aires in 1960, kidnaped Eichmann from the suburb where he lived under an assumed name and secretly flew him to Israel.
There the man who arranged for the trains that carried 6 million Jews to their death was tried and executed in 1961.
Harel, speaking in a firm voice and animated manner, seemed to grow angry when asked what Wiesenthal’s role was in the case.
Most accounts of Wiesenthal’s life credit him with locating Eichmann’s hiding place, but Harel declared flatly, “Wiesenthal’s role was absolutely nothing.”
Harel also said that when the Israelis flew to Buenos Aires in May, 1960, they had the address of a luxury apartment where Mengele, the Auschwitz doctor known as “the Angel of Death,” was living.
They discovered that he had abandoned the apartment and fled two weeks earlier after a “Nazi hunter in New York” made a speech saying he was living in the Argentine capital.
Harel refused to name the Nazi-hunter who made the speech but said news of it was transmitted around the world, alerting Mengele, who then fled to Paraguay and later Brazil, where he died.
Harel said the Israelis found Eichmann thanks to information provided to them by Fritz Bauer, a German Jew who lived in Sweden during the war, returning to Germany to become the attorney general of the state of Hesse.
Harel said Bauer had received a letter from a blind German half-Jew in Buenos Aires, who feared his daughter was dating the son of a high Nazi official who might be Eichmann.
The son allegedly said his father “was a high official in Germany and tried to help the fatherland and was sorry that the Jews were not all killed,” Harel said.
“Bauer did not know how to evaluate the information he received, so he gave it to us.”
Wiesenthal was not immediately available for comment, but in the latest volume of his autobiography he details his work on the case, including, he says, discovering that Eichmann was in Buenos Aires probably living under the name of “Klems” or “Klemt.” Eichmann’s alias was Ricardo Klement.
But Harel said that what led them to Eichmann was the material received from Bauer and captured German documents that gave Eichmann’s physical details.
“It was his ear size and the SS (a Nazi elite force) blood tattoo under his arm that gave him away. Many things change in the face over the years, but a man’s ears always remain the same,” Harel said.
Harel said that at one point, the captured Eichmann admitted under intense questioning who he was and then asked for a glass of wine. When he discovered that his captors were Israelis, he recited the Hebrew prayer “Hear O Israel, Thy Lord Thy God Is One.”
“He told us he was a great friend of the Jews. We were furious. Some of my people started to forget their orders not to touch him. They wanted to kill him, but they didn’t, and he started to beg for small favors.”
Harel asked if Eichmann knew where Mengele was, and Eichmann grew frightened, he said. “I suspected that Eichmann was being supported by Mengele, whose family was very rich.”
Harel said he offered Israeli government support for Eichmann’s family if the Nazi told him where Mengele was, but Eichmann refused.
But Harel said Eichmann begged for his life, saying he would tell the Israelis all of Hitler’s secrets if his life was spared. Instead, Harel promised that Eichmann would get the best lawyer available to defend him at his trial.
Start your day right
Sign up for Essential California for news, features and recommendations from the L.A. Times and beyond in your inbox six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.