'Operation Finale' makes Eichmann almost real again

Nanci Bond and Ellen Jaronczyk, of Williamsburg, suggested my wife and I should accompany them to see the movie “Operation Finale.”

The movie is a thriller that recreates the abduction of Adolf Eichmann, a former SS-Obergruppenfuhrer (lieutenant-general), and architect of the “final solution,” the mass-deportation and extermination of millions of European Jews during World War II.

In 1960, Eichmann, living under a false name, was captured in Argentina by the Mossad, Israel’s famed intelligence agency. He was flown clandestinely to Israel. There, put on trial, he was found guilty of war crimes, sentenced to death and hanged in 1962. He was the only individual ever executed in Israel.

“Where else but in Williamsburg could you go to see a movie about Eichmann’s capture and be accompanied by someone who met him and survived his murderous regime?” commented Bond.

Indeed, as I have described in a chapter of my book, “Report from a Distant Place,” I met Eichmann in 1944 in Budapest. After Nazi-Germany invaded Hungary on March 19, 1944, Eichmann arrived in Budapest and the deportation of Hungarian Jews to Nazi extermination camps began.

According to official Nazi documents, between May and July 1944, Hungary’s Jews — about 800,000 — were deported to the gas chambers at Auschwitz at a rate of 12,000 people a day.

By the July 1944, more than 437,000 of Hungary’s 725,000 Jews had been killed at Auschwitz.

To slow down the Nazi killing machine and to gain time to rescue as many members of the remaining Hungarian Jewish community as possible, Dr. Rezso Kasztner, a Zionist leader operating under the aegis of the Switzerland-based International Red Cross, negotiated face to face with Adolf Eichmann. It was a process that eventually resulted in dispatching a rescue train that took 1,684 Hungarian Jews to Switzerland, instead of Auschwitz.

This action was the largest single rescue of Jews during the entire war.

During his trial in Israel, Eichmann testified that Reichsfuherer Heinrich Himmler, desperate to bolster the German Army, authorized him to negotiate a deal by which the Nazis would allow the emigration of up to a million Jews in exchange for 10,000 heavy trucks to be used by the German Army on the Eastern Front. Nothing came of the proposal, as the Western powers refused to consider it.

Dr. Kasztner, however, used this opening to start negotiations with Eichmann to allow 3,000 Hungarian Jews go to Switzerland in exchange of a ransom of a million dollars worth of gold and jewelry.

I was an aide to Dr. Kasztner and helped him deliver a suitcase full of gold and jewelry to Eichmann’s headquarters at an elegant villa on Budapets’s Swabhegy. As a result, 1,684 people were sent by train to Switzerland. The deal was considered to be an incentive to pursue a larger deal.

It was SS-Commander Kurt Becher, the SS-chief economic officer in Hungary who took hold of the suitcase in the presence of Eichmann. I had a glance at Eichmann. Considering his powers over life and death, he was a mythical figure. But when I saw him next, sitting in the glass-cage during his trial in Israel, he represented, in the words of philosopher Hannah Arendt, “The Banality of Evil.”

Eichmann’s trial was designed to demonstrate his guilt as well as to present the history of the entire Holocaust. The Israeli government arranged for the trial to be covered by media from around the globe.

The greatest impact was in Israel. The younger generation, the “sabres” (native-born), distanced themselves from the tragic history of European Jews and called themselves “Israelis”, not Jews, but they learned that anti-Semitism is inclusive.

Shatz, is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop and Amazon com.

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