The life of a Mossad child

Three children of secret agents talk about their lives growing up with legendary Israeli heroes.

Peter Malchin, Former Mossad Chief521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Peter Malchin, Former Mossad Chief521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In February 2012, hundreds gathered at Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People to inaugurate a festive exposition marking 50 years since the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. The excitement among the people attending the event – many of them relatives of or close to people who had been involved in the capture – was evident. Over the years following the heroic operation, which was one of the most well-known in the country’s history, the varying versions of the Mossad and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chiefs who carried out the mission – most of whom are no longer living – have become public.
The Mossad’s decision to disclose for the first time dozens of rare tidbits related to the operation provided those at the Beit Hatfutsot event another opportunity to tell the stories of people who had become part of history, though most of them had done so anonymously.
One woman introduced herself to the crowd as “Daphna, the daughter of Zvi Aharoni,” who had been on loan to the Mossad from the Shin Bet for the capture of “Ricardo Clement” (one of the pseudonyms Eichmann used to evade capture). After bestowing credit on the pilots and the researchers involved in a chain of events that led up to the abduction, she requested that the guests acknowledge the contribution of the people without whom the spies could not have accomplished such great results: “The women who stood beside these heroes throughout the years, who waited at home patiently, who carried the heavy burden and who dealt with all family matters on their own.”
According to Daphna, “growing up in a family where the father was in the Mossad was to grow up in a house of silence. I was never allowed to ask what my father did for a living.”
The Mossad wives undergo security screening and are granted the appropriate security clearance. They are instructed not to inform their children and other family members of any details, except that their father works for the Defense Ministry.
“The children know that their father works in the embassy, in security, or for the Defense Ministry, but they don’t know who his operatives are or which countries he travels to. Most of them know that their father works for some sort of secret organization, and every so often questions arise, with which they grapple the best they can,” explains journalist and novelist Gad Shimron, who is a specialist in intelligence matters, having served in the Mossad himself.
Ninety percent of Mossad employees work in an “office” from 9 to 5. The only difference is that Mossad employees are not allowed to tell their families anything about what they do. And for the other 10% – the field operatives – the main hardship is the frequent trips abroad. In this respect, they are not that different from shoe salesmen – except they’re not allowed to talk about their work.
While spies in the 21st century work in the age of computers, in a world that has no borders and is saturated in technology, the operational agents in Israel’s early years functioned in a completely different environment. Every intelligence operation in a foreign country demanded weeks of preparation, and long trips to distant countries were the norm. All this took place with few means of communication, and the lifestyle in which the families of agents lived was greatly affected. In the modern era, trips might be shorter, but the lives of operatives’ families, who must also maintain absolute secrecy, are still affected by the danger that hovers above them, and the fake identities are still the same.
“We knew that our father worked in something connected with the government. We knew that he worked for ‘The Office’... and that many mornings when we’d wake up, he’d be gone,” Daphna tells The Jerusalem Post about her father, who was born in Germany in 1921 and made aliya before World War II broke out. He joined the Mossad in the early 1960s after many years of service in the British military, the Hagana, the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). “On forms for school, I remember that I had been instructed to write that he worked for the Foreign Ministry. That’s how we grew up – not asking questions.”
She remembers once finding a photograph of her father, one of the first operatives in the Mossad’s “Caesarea” unit, standing next to the pyramids in Egypt. When she asked him why he had gone there, “he immediately told me, ‘Forget about it. It was nothing.’” Daphna, 55, is a journalist who covers nature and is also a tour guide. She lives in the house where she grew up and has a hard time recollecting where her father went for work or how often he would be away. “I just vaguely remember that it was normal for him to be away.”
One trip, though, is etched in her memory: In the early 1960s, the Shin Bet “lent” her father to the Mossad to take part in the Eichmann case. He traveled a lot to Argentina in those days.
“When my father came home from one of his trips to Argentina, he brought my brother and me leather jackets – a red one for me and a beige one for my brother, and he brought a crate of giant pears with him, too. We sat in front of the house wearing our leather jackets and showed off the sweet pears our father had brought us back from Argentina.”
While most of the operations in which her father was involved remain a secret to this day, his part in locating Garibaldi Street was harder to hide.
“We knew very early on that he had caught Eichmann, but we weren’t allowed to tell anyone,” she recalls. “There are so many things that I still don’t know about today.”
Daphna says that when she was a child, she felt like her family’s daily routine was similar to that of her friends, but looking back, she realizes that it took a heavy toll on her mother – who died when Daphna was only 19.
“Wives of operatives had to raise their children pretty much on their own, all the while not knowing exactly where their husbands were,” Daphna says.
“Although the Mossad was in touch with our family and made sure we were okay, and we never had any financial worries, dealing with family issues all on her own was extremely difficult for my mother. It’s not a natural situation. In our case, my mother was responsible for educating us, and she carried this burden all on her own. My father was never around to help, and when he did show up, he was like a hero who had come home… or [it was like] God himself had appeared.”
OMER MALCHIN also remembers being instructed to write ‘Foreign Ministry clerk’ on forms in the space for his father’s occupation. Omer is the son of Zvi Malchin, a senior founding member of the Mossad.
“I knew that he did something connected to the security of the country, but I didn’t know exactly what. As a young boy, I wasn’t that interested in the details.
I was old enough to realize that he wasn’t a simple clerk, but I didn’t bother asking.”
Omer’s father spent most of his time away from home and didn’t meet many of his teachers.
“My father would leave for trips and come visit us when he had time,” he recalls. “My mother was the one who raised us. One time he came with me to school, and it was a big deal. Spending time with him wasn’t part of my day-today schedule, so when he was home it was like a holiday.”
Today Omer is 50 and lives and works in San Francisco. He has spent most of his life outside of Israel. Like many Mossad families in the 1960s and 1970s, his family relocated to Paris for a few years, where the mothers and children would wait for their husbands and fathers to return from faraway countries.
“The fact that my father was away doing dangerous things was always in the background of our lives,” Omer recalls. His father was considered one of the country’s greatest agents, and he twice won a national security prize.
“We lived in one of these security enclaves, so most of the people around knew that he worked for the Mossad, and some of our friends’ parents had been injured during operations. The Eichmann capture was sort of a known secret. It was the only operation that all of us knew about. Kids came up to me at school and told me that my dad had been the man who caught Eichmann. When I got home, I realized that’s what had really happened.”
During his years in the Mossad, the elder Malchin discovered his love for painting. He would use operatives’ face makeup to paint scenes and portraits of people he saw.
“Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and see him painting on a canvas. That’s how he passed the time when he was alone. Painting was an outlet to express his emotions and thoughts, to show the world what he was going through without using words or exposing people or operations. He was never just a spy; he was an artist, too,” Omer says. “His creativity was one of the reasons he was such a good spy.”
Zvi Malchin retired at the age of 46 after having worked for the Mossad for 27 years.
He continued to cultivate his love of painting and also published six books.
“Some of the operatives went on to become chairmen and CEOs, but my father couldn’t do it,” says his son. “He didn’t want to train spies or sell weaponry.
It wasn’t in his DNA. But when he quit the Mossad, he didn’t even have a CV. The only thing he had was his ability to paint and write.”
In the months before he died in 2005, Malchin engaged in many long talks with his son, in which he recalled some of his experiences working for the secret service.
“My father was always a very secretive kind of guy. He didn’t know how to live any other way. He even kept things secret that didn’t need to be,” Omer says.
“But as he got older, he wanted to tell me more, and I also really wanted to hear about everything. I think he wanted to make sure that I knew all sorts of things.
He told me the stories, and about operations that had historical significance, like the Eichmann trial. But he also wanted to tell me about relationships he had had with people and what his life had been like.”
IN CONTRAST to the relatively calm lives of the Eichmann team members’ children, Oded Gur Aryeh’s life was more like a roller-coaster. His father, Wolfgang Lutz (Ze’ev Gur Aryeh) was known as the “Spy on the Horse” or the “Champagne Spy,” and was a well-known figure in the Israeli intelligence community. Lutz’s Aryan features and fluency in German added to the validity of his cover story while he lived in Egypt in the early 1960s. He was an extremely valuable agent until his arrest in March 1965, when he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Oded’s memories of his father’s turbulent life provide a glimpse of a drama that even Ian Fleming could not have produced.
Lutz was born in Berlin and made aliya in 1933. Following his service in the British military, the Hagana and the IDF, he was recruited to military intelligence and later the Mossad. The Gur Aryeh family moved in the late 1960s to Mossad headquarters in Paris, from which his father would leave for his missions – obtaining vital information about Egypt’s weapons programs under Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Under the pseudonym “Shimshon,” Lutz adopted a fake identity as a former Nazi officer who had become a businessman and founded a large riding club in Egypt. Lutz ran the riding club for five years, during which time it became a magnet for highsociety figures in Cairo.
“Shimshon” succeeded in forming friendships with military personnel and high-ranking Egyptian officials, as well as with German and Soviet scientists who had come to assist Egypt with weapons development.
Throughout the many years that Lutz worked as an operative in Egypt, his family waited for him Paris, which he would visit every few months for work-related briefings and family outings. During one of these visits, his son was exposed to his secret world after accompanying his father to a meeting with another operator at a Parisian café, during which he realized his father was a Mossad agent in Egypt.
“I was 12 at the time, and many interesting things were going on around me,” Oded says. Today, at the age of 64, he is a professor of business management and a consultant in Michigan.
“They had made a calculated decision to let me in on the secret. They had two options: to either keep everything secret and take the chance that I might say the wrong thing at the wrong time, or to explain the situation to me. At that age, I thought it was all very exiting – like a James Bond movie – and I felt like I was part of a very exciting adventure to protect Israel.”
One day toward the end of February 1965, when he was 15 years old, Oded went downstairs to the newsstand to buy a copy of The International Herald Tribune for his mother. One of the headlines on the front page read, “Six West Germans Disappear in Egypt,” and the article said a spy ring that had been trying to assassinate Egyptian and German scientists had been caught. His father was one of them.
“Our lives suddenly turned completely upside down. Overnight the exciting adventure had turned into a story of survival. The entire operation was extremely secret, because we had to maintain the cover story that my father was German,” Oded says.
In the same newspaper article from which he learned that his father might be executed, he also learned another dark secret: Lutz had been arrested along with his wife. Oded realized that his father had secretly been leading a double life. Later on, Mossad officials confirmed his greatest fear: While Lutz’s wife and son lived alongside other Mossad families in Paris, Lutz had fallen in love with a young German woman named Waltraud. Lutz had never told his wife and son about her, nor had he told Waltraud that he already had a family. He hadn’t told his operatives about his double life, either. When the Mossad found out, they decided to keep Lutz in the field and not tell his wife, Rivka, anything.
Immediately following his arrest, German Intelligence agreed to the Mossad’s request to represent the Israeli spy as a German citizen. In that way, Lutz admitted that he was an Israeli spy, but was able to maintain his cover story. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Waltraud was sentenced to three years.
In addition to fearing that his father’s life was in danger, Oded had to keep all of this a secret and not tell a soul. Remaining silent was necessary to avoid the possibility that someone in Israel might recognize Lutz and reveal his true identity. There was a special meeting of the editors of Israeli papers in an effort to prevent Israeli media from publishing his identity, and the Mossad purchased equipment to disrupt the broadcast of the Egyptian trial on Israeli TV.
“It was a terribly lonely period for me.
I couldn’t answer my friends’ questions, or even my girlfriend’s, about where my father was. I had to keep making up stories.
Usually I would just say he was away on business, but how long can someone be away for work? At some point, people just stopped inquiring.”
According to Oded, “the Mossad supported us for all logistic and financial matters, but there was zero support regarding personal matters. Today, the Mossad offers psychological support for every little issue. But this was a different era.
Psychology was not part of the package. We had to remain tough and strong at all times.
Today, when I think about it, I’m amazed at what I had to deal with. I was 16 when all of this was happening, and I had absolutely no one to talk to.”
After the Six Day War, Lutz and Waltraud were released (along with the other agents involved in the affair) in a prisoner exchange deal, in part due to a letter Oded had written to the prime minister, asking him not to abandon his father. When Lutz came back to Israel, he told his son that he had decided to divorce Rivka and to continue living with Waltraud.
“I had just been drafted to the army, and I had an entire life not connected with my father. Both of us wanted to form a relationship with each other, but it lacked any intimacy,” Oded says.
He elaborates on the problematic nature of living under a fake identity for so many years while trying to keep connected to family back home – and then finally going back home.
“Spies are paid to lie and deceive. To gain people’s trust and then take advantage of them. I suppose it was easier for him to lie and use people. That’s the result of lying and deceiving people for a living,” he says.
“Ostensibly it’s for the sake of something good, for the country, but the acts themselves are still ugly, and you develop the ability to do these things.
“I did not suffer so much from the way things turned out,” he continues. “I had managed to become strong over the years.
But I was very sad for my mother. She was extremely hurt, and this was very painful for me, since she was a special person. After the arrest, she lost faith in my father and in all of her Mossad friends, who it turns out knew all along but hadn’t told her. I don’t know how she lived with this.”
For the first few years after Lutz returned to Israel, he was treated with honor – like a national hero. But his business ventures failed and he sank into depression after Waltraud died in 1971. He had a hard time adjusting to life outside of the shadows. He was involved in a number of unsuccessful business ventures, married twice more, and spent the last years of his life in Germany, where he died in 1993.
“The Mossad takes relatively young people with certain skills and teaches them how to be professional spies,” said Oded.
“Then they retire at a relatively young age, but all they know how to do is be spies. It’s very difficult for them to go back to their family and live a normal, simple life, so they escape reality in any way they can by painting, writing and engaging in various activities, which often takes them away from Israel physically, too.”
Whether by chance or not, Zvi Aharoni and Zvi Malchin also both decided to live outside Israel. Aharoni retired from the Mossad in 1970 and began a business venture. In the 1980s, he moved to England, where he wrote a book describing his version of the events leading up to Eichmann’s capture.
“He was used to living far away from his family, so this was how he preferred to live even after he retired. He also felt like it wasn’t the same Israel as when he left, and was unhappy with the way things were,” Malchin’s son says.
“Not everyone who works for the Mossad is a spy. There’s a huge support network. But the agents, who spend their time in the field in operational activity, live in a world with its own rules. And after living in this world, it’s hard to go back to how they lived before,” he continues. “When he was older and his life changed, my father realized that the system was defective. I don’t think he was sorry about the path he had chosen – he was very patriotic – but he had a long list of grievances. He truly loved Israel and wanted to work for the good of the country, but it was easier for him to do this from afar.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner