Former spy recounts how Mengele got away

Mossad let 'Angel of Death' slip through its fingers in Argentina so as not to botch Eichmann capture.

eitan 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
eitan 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Mossad scrapped a plan to seize the notorious Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who was located in Argentina in 1960, in order not to botch the capture of Adolf Eichmann, the former spymaster Minister for Pensioner Affairs Rafi Eitan said Monday. Mengele, who was known as the "Angel of Death" for his cruel medical experiments on Auschwitz inmates, was discovered living in Buenos Aires by Mossad agents after Eichmann had already been nabbed by Israeli secret service agents and was being held in a safe house in the city. Eitan said he had opposed a plan to seize both Nazis at the same time due to "operational considerations" of the covert operation. "The question was should we do the two operations at the same time," he told The Jerusalem Post. "I said thank you very much, but I have Eichmann in hand, and I don't want to lose him." With Eichmann held in the safe house, the plan to seize Mengele - who had been located in a city apartment but had subsequently left on a trip with his wife - was put off. "We decided to head back to Israel with Eichmann but without Mengele," Eitan said. News of Eichmann's capture was quickly made public in Israel by then-prime minister David Ben-Gurion. "It was impossible to keep Eichmann a secret for long because too many people knew about it when we returned to Israel," he said. Several weeks later, another Mossad team returned to Argentina to nab Mengele, but by then the trail had gone cold. "I cannot say whether there is a connection between news of Eichmann's capture and Mengele's disappearance," Eitan said. "But the facts are that he disappeared after the news of Eichmann's capture was made public." A three-year search for Mengele in neighboring Brazil and Paraguay proved fruitless, he said. Half a century later, the 81-year-old-Eitan said he did not regret his decision. "I would have done the same thing again today," Eitan said. "I think that had we gone for them both at the same time, we would have lost them both." The chief Nazi hunter of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said Monday that the decision made half a century ago was justified. "There was a logical basis for making such a decision since they could have blown the whole operation," said Efraim Zuroff. He noted that the Argentinian government, more than any other, had made a "conscious and deliberate" effort to save Nazi mass-murderers in their country. "This was only one in a long list of missed opportunities to bring major Nazi war criminals to justice," he said. In addition to the experiments he performed on camp inmates, especially on twins, Mengele was one of the notorious SS physicians who supervised the Nazi "selection" process for arriving transports of prisoners, determining who was to be killed and who was to become a forced laborer. Mengele drowned in Brazil in 1979, at age 68, after suffering a stroke. Eichmann was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity by an Israeli court in 1961. He was hanged the following year.