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Gripping story of the hunt for justice
on 31 January 2010
This is a superbly researched and finely written account of the hunt for one of the most notorious of all Nazi criminals. Adolf Eichmann, the chief executive of Hitler's scheme for the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question", had managed to escape at the end of World War II and, with considerable ingenuity and by assuming various identities, continued to elude capture and finally settled in anonymity with his family in Argentina.
Neal Bascomb builds the story and the excitement with meticulous care, first of all outlining Eichmann's central role in the Holocaust. By recounting the wartime experiences of some of the participants in the subsequent hunt, he tells us enough about the terrible effects on them and on their families to remind us, in case anyone needs reminding, of the reasons why justice had to be done. We are also given an insight into the Holocaust as seen from Eichmann's point of view. In his memoirs, quoted by Bascomb, he describes himself as "a faithful, decent, correct, conscientious, and enthusiastic member of the SS ..... inspired solely by idealistic feelings towards the fatherland to which I had the honour of belonging". Chilling words in this context - and indeed, as we see later in the story, although he settled in the suburbs of Buenos Aires and did his ingenious best to live in obscurity under the alias of Ricardo Klement, he still managed to educate three of his sons Horst, Dieter and Klaus ("Nick") in his hateful philosophy, to the extent that we are left in little doubt that, given half a chance, they would gladly have followed in their father's footsteps.
The hunt is recounted in intricate and exciting detail, and we can only admire the determination, resourcefulness, painstaking planning and execution of the Mossad team who are charged with the extremely high-risk operation of capturing Eichmann, holding him in secret and flying him to Israel to face trial - all of this without attracting any attention and without harming a soul, apart from the obvious necessity of depriving the target of his unmerited liberty. In spite of the fact that we already know the outcome of the operation, as well as of the trial itself, the tension is built up brilliantly as the team try to think of everything, to plan for all the things that could possibly go wrong - which, winding up the suspense even further, some of them do.
One of the great assets of Bascomb's book is the way the reader gets to know and to feel involved with the individual members of the group - for example there is Zvi Aharoni, whose ingenuity and determination in tracking down Klement/Eichmann in Argentina ensures that the capture operation is finally given the go-ahead. Then there is Peter Malkin, the sensitive and resourceful strongman of the team who is allocated the vital task of grabbing Eichmann and bundling him into a car - clearly one thing that simply cannot be allowed to go wrong. Apart from the Mossad team, however, one of the most remarkable aspects of the tale is the courage and sheer nerve of some of the ordinary people - among them, at different points in the story, a young woman and a teenage boy - who are willing to risk their own necks to help uncover the true identity of the obscure Mr. Klement and pass the information to those who seek him.
From the moment of his capture onwards, Eichmann cuts a rather pathetic figure. At the trial, he argued in his defence that he never personally killed anyone. But I imagine that few readers will be shedding a sympathetic tear for him, any more than he did for the millions he despatched to the gas chambers of Auschwitz. In the end, and in stark contrast to the horrors of the Holocaust, the reader is left with a certain feeling of satisfaction - firstly at a story superbly well told by Neal Bascomb, and secondly because a key perpetrator of one of history's most monstrous crimes could finally be brought to justice.