The 50th anniversary of Adolf Eichmann’s capture, on May 11, 1960, passed almost imperceptibly in Argentina, while in Israel it apparently remained a non-story.
Few in Buenos Aires wished to retread the diplomatic eggshells of the Argentine claim against Israel for a kidnapping in violation of its sovereignty, and embarassingly close to the 150th anniversary of its independence on May 25.
Now celebrating its bicentenary and – despite the 1970s and early 1980s military regime’s Nazi-style excesses – the affair is still a sore point even in today’s proud Argentinian democracy.
By the 1950s, war crime investigations jibed with US Cold War policy. Former Nazis were now rehabilitated as anti-Soviet allies. Simon Wiesenthal’s office was closed down and, in disgust, he sent his archives to Yad VaShem, withholding only the Eichmann file. Thus the center that bears his name felt compelled to mark the Eichmann capture with a public seminar “May 1960-May 2010 Eichmann in Buenos Aires: The Lessons.” earlier this month in the Argentinian capital.
The question was raised: “Why did Israel not cooperate directly with Argentina in the arrest?”
It was argued that, in 1960, diplomatic formalities would have ensured Eichmann’s flight, facilitated by Nazi networks in Latin America and their sympathizers in Argentine political circles. Only a year earlier, a West German extradition request for Josef Mengele ensured his escape to Paraguay and onward to Brazil.
EICHMANN’S CAPTURE was of state priority and, on June 7, David Ben-Gurion wrote a personal letter to Argentinian president Arturo Frondizi explaining that Eichmann “was directly responsible for implementing Hitler’s Final Solution in Europe,” admitting that he “did not underestimate the gravity of the formal violation of Argentine laws,” nevertheless stressing that “this event could not be judged from a purely formal angle.”
On August 3, Israel apologized for the kidnapping, Argentina expelled the Israeli ambassador, Israel was censured at the UN and the matter was shelved.
The capture and subsequent trial were evoked by Elie Wiesel as: “A few Jews caught him and brought him to justice. They didn’t kill him, which they could have in Buenos Aires. No, they brought him to the free and sovereign State of Israel where men could serve as his judges. The trial was more important in the field of education than in the field of justice. It was important for the Israeli youth to know what happened, where we came from. And that’s what the Eichmann trial really did. But not only in Israel, the real turning point was the awareness of the world toward the tragedy of the Jewish people.”
Indeed, the Israeli justice system demonstrated objectivity providing every defense facility. Yet, common to most war criminals at the bar, pleading military obedience or diminished importance in the structure of crime. Eichmann’s defense excluded the minimum mitigation – an expression of remorse. He seemed convinced of the rectitude of his “cause.”
FIFTY YEARS later, “Eichmann the man” is less the issue than “Eichmann the phenomenon” and its contemporary lessons at a time when Wiesel’s hope for “the awareness of the world toward the tragedy of the Jewish people” has become gravely eroded.
At the seminar earlier this month which took place at the AMIA Jewish Center where, in 1994, 85 people were murdered and hundreds maimed in the deadliest terror attack perpetrated by Hizbullah against Diaspora Jewry, my presentation traced four trajectories, intersecting in time and space:
• In 1942 Berlin, the Wannsee conference where Eichmann, the “draftsman of the Holocaust,” a grey bureaucrat, presents a country-by-country list of 11 million Jews destined for extermination. This line ends in 1945 with Eichmann commencing his long Vatican/Red Cross-assisted escape route to Argentina.
• In May 1960, he is located in Buenos Aires and his 1961 Jerusalem trial reopened the gas chamber doors for the postwar generation. This line ends in June 1967 with the leadup to the Six Day War that struck Jews everywhere with the apprehension of a second Holocaust.
• The 1979 Islamic revolution in Teheran, like its Nazi forebear in 1933, required a scapegoat for its Persian-Shi’ite supremacy in an Arab-Sunni region – a “lebensraum-style” national Islamism. Its spokesman, a grey bureaucrat, calls “to wipe Israel off the map.”
This line ends in the 1994 Buenos Aires bombing of the AMIA Jewish
Center, with direct Iranian complicity.
• In February 1992, Argentina proclaimed the opening of its Nazi files.
Invited by then president Carlos Menem to view the seven folders named
for Josef Mengele, Martin Bormann, Walter Rauff, etc., I emerged to the
awaiting press, demanding the missing eighth file, “Adolf Eichmann.”
This limited transparency initiative carries us up to this month’s 50th
anniversary, where the fourth trajectory closes the circle in Buenos
Aires and all four lines intersect:
• We remembered the victims and honored the survivors of the Holocaust
and the AMIA bombing.
• We praised Argentine persistence, calling twice from the UN podium to
bring the Iranian accomplices to the AMIA atrocity to the bar of
• We recalled that the Nazi terror resulted in the Holocaust just as
Teheran’s patronage of terror today proceeds with nuclear genocidal
Eventually one or more of the seven Iranians sought by Interpol for the
AMIA bombing, will be apprehended in a third country. Ironically, based
on its Nazi war criminal legislation as enacted in the Eichmann trial,
Israel’s universal jurisprudence instruments would make it an
appropriate jurisdiction for their prosecution for a crime against the
Jewish people, consequently, a crime against humanity.
Nor should we forget that Latin America – from Venezuela to Ecuador,
Nicaragua to Bolivia – is a continent growingly darkened by the shadow
of another grey bureaucrat’s anti-Semitism out of Teheran.
The writer is director for international relations of the Simon