The movie opens with some text to set up the story. According to the movie, between 1939 and 1945, the Nazis murdered over ten million people they deemed to be enemies of the state—six million of them being European Jews.
Some of the Nazi leaders including Hitler, Himmler and Goering escaped justice by taking their own lives. A decade after the war ended, most people had forgotten about the head of the SS Office of Jewish Affairs, Adolf Eichmann.
Since World War II itself isn’t the focus of the movie, it’s probably not too surprising that this is a simplification of what happened during the war. But the broad strokes mentioned here are true.
Let’s start with the numbers given. You might have noticed the numbers given by the movie aren’t very exact, which makes sense because we just don’t know the exact number of people who lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis.
Although, it’s worth pointing out that the movie mentions the years 1939 to 1945, which are the dates during World War II. That doesn’t necessarily include the Nazi Party’s rise to power in Germany itself, which would’ve been from the years 1933 to 1939. Well, I guess one could argue they began their rise to power before 1933 since there was the whole Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 that sent Hitler to prison where he wrote Mein Kampf, but 1933 is when they took over power in Germany as the ruling party.
Of course, today we know the mass murder by the Nazis as the Holocaust—a word coming from two Greek words, “Holo” meaning “whole” and “Kaustos” meaning burned. Most historians would agree with the number the movie gave of over ten million people targeted and murdered with six million of them being Jews. Some would put that number even higher at 11 million.
So, we don’t really have exact numbers.
And just like the movie implies, there were millions more beyond the Jews that were targeted and lost their lives during the Holocaust. You see, as they rose to power, the Nazis targeted anyone who opposed their political views. They targeted people that didn’t fit into their ideology. And while it is true that the Jews suffered some of the greatest losses during the Holocaust, they weren’t the only group of people who were targeted for genocide by the Nazis.
Roma, Slavs, ethnic Poles, homosexuals, black Germans, even smaller groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses were murdered.
As for the movie’s mention of Hitler, Himmler and Goering escaping justice by taking their own lives, that is also true. Being a fan of history, I’m sure you know that Adolf Hitler shot himself on April 30th, 1945 as the Third Reich was collapsing fast and the Soviet Army closed in on Berlin from the east and the Western Allies pushing through Germany from the west. He ordered his body and the body of Eva Braun to be burned. Eva was the woman Hitler had married in the late hours of the 28th or early morning hours of the 29th.
Since Hitler and Braun’s bodies were burned and buried after their deaths, well, we don’t have them. We only know what happened from eyewitness statements from people who were in the bunker at the time.
As you can imagine, since we don’t have Hitler’s remains, there are plenty of conspiracy theories around Hitler’s death. But we’ll leave those alone for now. Those are stories for a different time.
Heinrich Himmler also committed suicide, but in a bit of a different manner than Hitler. As the Third Reich was crumbling in early 1945, it became evident to some of Hitler’s circle that Himmler wanted Hitler’s job once Hitler was out of the picture—which seemed to be approaching fast the way the war was going. So, by the time the Soviet Army had pushed their way near and into Berlin in April of 1945, Himmler decided it was time to circumvent Hitler’s leadership altogether.
He reached out to a Swiss diplomat to try and broker a deal in which he basically agreed to join the British and American-led Western Allies in a fight against the Soviet Union. Hitler found out about it, though, and ordered Himmler stripped of his rank and arrested. Himmler managed to escape, but he ended up getting captured by the Western Allies. It was then that Himmler committed suicide by poison.
That leaves us with the last of the Nazi leadership the movie mentions taking their own lives, Hermann Goering.
It is true that he committed suicide, but again the manner of his death was different than either Hitler or Himmler.
While Goering captured by the Western Allies like Himmler, unlike Himmler, Goering was put on trial at Nuremberg. During those trials, Goering was one of many Nazis who defended themselves against four counts. They were:
• Count One: The Common Plan or Conspiracy
• Count Two: Crimes Against Peace
• Count Three: War Crimes
• Count Four: Crimes Against Humanity
Goering was found guilty of all four counts and condemned to be hanged. Goering entered a plea that he be shot instead of hanged. That plea was refused, and Goering was sentenced to be hanged with ten other top Nazi officials. About two hours before the sentence was to be carried out in the early morning hours of October 16th, 1946, Goering used a potassium cyanide pill he had hidden away in his hair pomade container.
The final man mentioned during the opening text in the movie is, of course, one of the main characters in the movie: Adolf Eichmann. As you can probably guess, he was a very real person. And he was, as the movie says, who was an SS officer and the Head of Jewish Affairs office. That means Adolf Eichmann was one of the primary organizers of the Holocaust.
That’s not to say Hitler, Himmler and Goering weren’t involved. They were. After all, Himmler was the head of the SS and one of the most powerful men in Nazi Germany. But it was Eichmann who another top-ranking SS officer named Reinhard Heydrich called on to organize the deportation of Jews from occupied Poland as early as 1939.
We learned about Heydrich, whose brutality earned him the nickname “The Butcher of Prague”, way back on episode #12 of Based on a True Story when we covered the movie Anthropoid.
Speaking of movies, let’s head back to today’s movie now, where we see an opening sequence takes place in Austria in 1954. Peter Malkin, who is played by Oscar Isaac in the movie, knocks on a door. A man by the name of Werner answers and almost immediately, two others with Peter drag the man away. Inside, Peter confronts the man’s wife and children.
She says her name is Annie, but Peter disagrees. No, your name is Vera. Looking down at her children, Peter tells her that her sons are Klaus and Dieter. Just then, a little girl steps from behind her mother’s skirt. This family doesn’t have two sons—they have one son and one daughter.
Suddenly, a shot rings out. Realizing his mistake, Peter rushes outside to tell the others. They have the wrong family. But it’s too late, the man has been killed. Greg Hill’s version of Moshe Tabor says something to the effect of, “So what? He was a Nazi. I’ll bet he was on someone’s list.”
After this opening sequence, we hear Ben Kingsley’s version of Adolf Eichmann talking about how they killed a man in Austria they mistook for him—for Eichmann.
Although I couldn’t find anything in my research to suggest this specific scene happened the way we see in the movie, it is true that the search for Eichmann sent a lot of people down a lot of wrong paths since the end of World War II.
And it’d seem some of those searches included talking to Vera Liebel, whom the movie correctly shows as being Adolf Eichmann’s wife.
For example, in 2007 the CIA declassified a formerly secret document that explained that the United States’s Counter Intelligence Corps tried to track down Eichmann’s whereabouts as early as 1946—so the same year as the Nuremberg trials. To quote from that document:
“According to one CIC source, Eichmann was believed to be living in Upper Bavaria, while his wife lived in Austria as did his parents-in-law. CIC subsequently went and interviewed Vera Liebel, Eichmann’s former wife in Alt Aussee in November 1946. Liebel told the Army’s investigator that she had not seen Eichmann since sometime in April 1945 when he visited her and their three children.”
It’s worth mentioning that the CIA document calls Vera Liebel the “former” wife of Eichmann. The two were married in 1935, but I couldn’t find any documentation to prove they were ever divorced. And since the CIA seems to have been able to track down Vera rather quickly, I’m assuming they’re using that terminology in the document because, at the time, they assumed the two were no longer together with Eichmann being on the run and all.
That same document also mentions Rabbi Abraham Kalmanowitz from New York who, in 1953, petitioned then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower to try and demand Eichmann’s extradition. At that time, Kalmanowitz thought Eichmann was in the Middle East somewhere.
Of course, we all know how secretive the CIA can be, so it’s not like Israel’s Mossad would necessarily know about all that information at the time.
Looking back on this from a historical lens, we know there were numerous sources in the early 1950s that claimed to have seen Eichmann in a variety of different places: Egypt, Italy, Syria, Germany, and so on.
It’s only with that historical look that we’re able to know Eichmann’s path from Germany to where he was ultimately captured in Argentina.
Or, perhaps I should say recaptured. You see, soon after the war was over, Adolf Eichmann was captured by the U.S. military. He spent time in prison camps using fake papers he had made. That assumed name was Otto Eckmann. It’s important to keep in mind that at this time he was imprisoned as any German soldier, so it wasn’t a maximum-security prison or anything like that.
Oh, and I probably should point out even though we know him as Adolf Eichmann, his full name was Otto Adolf Eichmann. So, Otto Eckmann wasn’t much of a change.
So, it’s probably not too surprising that it didn’t take long for him to believe his real identity was discovered. He managed to escape before they did anything about it, though, and fled to a small town in northern Germany. Using his contacts, he had more forged documents. This time with the name Otto Heninger.
While I could never find any documentation to prove the Nuremberg trials played a part in his decision to leave Europe altogether, it wouldn’t surprise me if they did. You see, this was 1946, about the same time that Eichmann’s role in the Holocaust was starting to unfold at the Nuremberg trials.
But leaving Europe would take more time. Using his connections again, Eichmann enlisted the help of a Nazi sympathizing Bishop in Italy to get him a passport for Argentina. That passport was issued by the Italian delegation of the Red Cross of Geneva and was under another fake name: Ricardo Klement.
Of course, that’s the name we hear in the movie.
And so, on June 17th, 1950, Eichmann left Germany and made his way to Argentina under the name Ricardo Klement. He landed in Argentina a little less than a month later, on July 14th. Initially, Eichmann found work as Ricardo Klement for a government contractor. But then he started to establish more roots. In 1952, Eichmann’s family arrived in Argentina and Eichmann himself got a job at Mercedes-Benz.
Not to get too far ahead of our story, but eight years later, in 1960, Eichmann and his family built the house at 14 Garibaldi Street in Buenos Aires that we see depicted in the movie.
Meanwhile, he isn’t in the movie at all, but in 1953, Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal received a letter that Adolf Eichmann had been seen in Argentina. In fact, it’d be that tip that would eventually lead to Eichmann’s capture as it helped authorities realize he was in Argentina instead of all those other places.
As a quick side note, I’m guessing he wasn’t included in the movie because Simon didn’t go to Argentina on the mission itself.
Speaking of the movie, let’s head back to the movie’s timeline now to find out how they identify Eichmann’s location. We’re in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the year 1960. It’s here that a young girl named Sylvia Hermann meets a young boy named Klaus Eichmann. They hit it off and before long we see the two having dinner together with Sylvia’s father, Lothar.
Over the dinner table, Lothar asks Klaus about his father. Klaus says he was in the SS during the war, but he was killed in the east. Now they live with Ricardo, their uncle. After a toast to Klaus’s father, Lothar asks if he’d recognize his father’s name.
The camera cuts away before we hear Klaus reply, but during the next scene we find out he must’ve said Adolf Eichmann’s name because at Mossad Headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel, they talk about getting a lead from Lothar Hermann on the whereabouts of Eichmann.
As it turns out, Lothar was Jewish and spent time in one of the concentration camps, Dachau. But he never told his daughter they were Jewish, instead raising her as a Catholic. So that’s how the movie sets up how they got the lead on Adolf Eichmann.
The basic gist of this is true, but there’s more to the story.
Oh, and in Peter Malkin’s book called Eichmann in My Hands that was one of the sources for the movie, he mentions Lothar Hermann recalled the name Nicolas Eichmann as someone his daughter had met. Although, the real Adolf Eichmann’s oldest son was named Klaus. He didn’t have a son named Nicolas, although some sources suggest Nick or Nicolas was a nickname for Klaus.
But then again, other sources do say Lothar’s daughter, Sylvia, started dating Klaus. So, it’s possible he was using an assumed name or maybe Lothar simply misremembered the name.
That’s nitpicking though.
One little tidbit that I found interesting in my research was that it wasn’t only Klaus who bragged about his father’s role in the war like we see in the movie. In fact, the real Adolf Eichmann did that himself.
I couldn’t find anything to indicate the Mossad knew about this at the time, but we know now that for about four months in 1956, a Nazi journalist named Willem Sassen interviewed Eichmann about his time during the war. Sassen was planning on writing a biography about Eichmann…but those notes, tapes and transcripts ended up being used for articles in Life magazine in the United States and Stern magazine in Germany in 1960 after Eichmann was captured.
As for Lothar Hermann, his role in Eichmann’s capture was an important one, although there’s a key difference the movie doesn’t show that I’ll circle back to here in a moment.
Lothar was blind, like the movie shows. And he was also a German Jew. He had spent time in the Dachau concentration camp—in fact, that’s where he was blinded as a result of the beatings he received there. As far as I can tell, one of the key reasons he was in Dachau wasn’t only because of being a Jew but because he was a socialist. His arrest was for spying on Hitler’s regime. As I mentioned earlier, differing political views often meant you’d end up in a camp…especially as the Nazis were rising to power.
Escaping Dachau, Lothar left Germany before the war officially broke out when he moved to Argentina in 1938 after Kristallnacht. But Lothar had experienced enough of the Nazi Party to recognize the name Eichmann years later when his daughter dated someone with that last name.
But not right away.
Heading back into the movie’s timeline, Sylvia Hermann agrees to show the Mossad agents the Eichmann home. Sylvia makes up some story about trying to make up with Klaus after a fight. That’s her reason for showing up at the Eichmann’s home. Meanwhile, she leads the Mossad agents to their home, and we can see one of the agents taking photos of Adolf Eichmann from afar.
This is where I’ll circle back to the key difference that I mentioned earlier. Even though the movie heavily implies the Mossad relied on Lothar’s tip and used Sylvia as a kind of bait to get Adolf Eichmann’s photo, it’d seem that’s not necessarily true.
Although it is true that she went to Eichmann’s house. But not necessarily the one we see in the movie.
So, the movie is showing the timeline here as being after 1960. As we learned earlier, that would mean Eichmann’s family would be living at the house on Garibaldi Street in Buenos Aires.
Let’s unravel what really happened.
According to Neal Bascomb’s book called Hunting Eichmann, it was in 1957 that Sylvia noticed something in the newspaper that caught her eye. In an article talking about some of the Nazi trials, it mentioned the role of someone named Adolf Eichmann.
As you recall, earlier I mentioned that Eichmann’s role in the Holocaust was brought up during the trials at Nuremberg. Probably one of the most prominent people who mentioned Eichmann’s name was Rudolf Hoss, who explained in great detail how Himmler had told him that he would be reporting to Eichmann and how he, Hoss, started testing techniques for mass murder at Auschwitz.
At least, that’s what happened in the trial’s testimony. I don’t know how much of those details made their way into the article Sylvia read. But the name Eichmann caught her eye because she had dated Klaus Eichmann. She showed the article to her father and he reached out to the prosecutors mentioned in the article.
When they replied, they asked for an address for the Eichmanns. That posed a bit of a problem since Sylvia had never gotten Klaus’s home address, even though they saw each other for a short period of time. He had only asked that if she were to write him that she do so through a mutual friend.
Which sounds kind of like a red flag right there, but maybe that’s just me.
After asking around a bit, they managed to find it: 4261 Chacabuco Street, where the Eichmanns lived before moving to the house they built at Garibaldi Street.
And so, it was at this house that Sylvia showed up to verify it was, indeed, the Eichmann’s residence. But just like we see in the movie, Adolf Eichmann never said his name was Adolf Eichmann. He did admit to being Klaus’s father, which would imply his last name was also Eichmann. After what must’ve been an incredibly tense few moments as Sylvia was standing in the house of someone she thought might be a mass murderer, Klaus arrived at the house.
We see something similar to this happen in the movie. Just like we see there, Klaus was surprised to find Sylvia there. I don’t know the specifics of what they said, but before long Klaus walked Sylvia to the bus stop where she made her way home. Once she got there, she told her dad what had happened, and he relayed that information to the prosecutors from the article. Those people, in turn, relayed the information to Mossad.
Of course, the movie doesn’t show that in January of 1958, the Mossad sent an operative named Emanuel Tamor to Argentina to verify the lead. Tamor said it’s not the Eichmann’s home. Adolf Eichmann was a man of great importance. He wouldn’t live in such a shabby house.
It wasn’t until someone else sent along some proof that the same house the Hermanns had mentioned was indeed the Eichmann’s home.
This is where some sources get a little fuzzy on what exactly happened next. Some of the books and articles that I read while researching this story simply mention that we don’t know for sure what the proof was. Maybe it’s still a secret that hasn’t been declassified.
But, as best as I can tell, it involves two more characters we see in the movie: Fritz Bauer and Isser Harel.
Bauer is played by Rainer Reiners while Harel is played by Lior Raz.
Harel was the head of the Mossad at the time, so when Tamor reported that it wasn’t likely to be Eichmann’s home, he was prepared to drop the lead. Fritz Bauer was the attorney general of the then-West German state of Hesse. As a Jew, he wanted to help bring Nazis to justice.
After Tamor’s report, Bauer ended up going to Jerusalem himself in December of 1959 to deliver some proof. We don’t really know what the proof was, but Bauer also claimed to have a former SS officer who could verify it. So, Harel was pressured to reopen the Eichmann case.
Whatever the proof was, soon after this is when the Mossad started planning the raid…starting with getting proof that it was Eichmann. That’s when they found out the Eichmanns had moved to their new home on Garibaldi Street.
That’s where, just like we see in the movie, they figured out a way to snap photos of Eichmann in his backyard. It was Zvi Aharoni, who is played by Michael Aronov in the movie, who used a camera hidden in a bag to take photos of Adolf Eichmann in his backyard.
That happened on March 19th, 1960. That was the proof they needed that it was indeed Adolf Eichmann.
The mission was a go.
Oh, and it’s probably worth pointing out that after Eichmann was captured, Lothar Hermann tried to collect a $10,000 reward offered for information leading to the capture. He was denied initially. It wasn’t until over a decade later, in 1971, that he was finally paid—just three years before Lothar Hermann’s death.
Back in the movie, after identifying Adolf Eichmann, the team of Mossad agents manage to abduct him one evening. It happens after Eichmann gets off a bus and is walking down the road. Peter Malkin is walking the other direction and soon after passing by, Peter grabs Eichmann from behind and drags him into the ditch by the side of the road.
Some of the other agents in a nearby car pull up and force Eichmann into the back seat of the car before heading off.
The movie does a pretty good job of showing how it happened, even down to Oscar Isaac’s version of Peter Malkin asking Eichmann if he had a moment in Spanish to catch him off guard.
It was May 11th, 1960.
The group of Mossad agents had been watching Eichmann’s routines for about a month at that point and had decided it would be best to grab him after he got home from work in the evening. He took a bus and the bus stop was a little distance from his house, so that meant for a time Eichmann would be walking alone.
Except, this time something was wrong. When the bus Eichmann was always on arrived, he wasn’t on it. The agents tried to figure out what to do. Had someone tipped Eichmann off of their plan? Should they abandon it? Should they continue?
I’m sure there were plenty of questions that went through their minds.
About half an hour after the bus that normally brought Eichmann home arrived, another one showed up. Eichmann got off.
Malkin was the first to interact with Eichmann, as I mentioned earlier and just like we see in the movie. Once Eichmann realized what was going on, he tried to flee but two other Mossad agents helped Malkin wrestle Eichmann to the ground. From there, they moved him to a nearby car where they him on the floor under a blanket as they made their way to one of three safe houses they had set up for this purpose.
Going back to the movie, there’s a problem that arises after they abduct Eichmann. They’re in a safehouse when they find out El Al, the airline they used to get there, won’t send an airplane to get them without a signed document from Eichmann that he’s willingly going to Israel.
Of course, why would the Nazi architect of the Holocaust willingly go to Israel? Seems like an impossible task. But, over time, Oscar Isaac’s version of Peter Malkin is able to convince Eichmann to do exactly that.
That is…well, let’s call it partially true. I couldn’t find anything in my research that would seem to back up the movie’s plot line where the agents had to get Adolf Eichmann to sign a document before the airline El Al would send an airplane to get them out.
That said, they did have Eichmann in the safe house for a total of nine days. The reason they waited, though, wasn’t necessarily to get him to sign a document that would allow them to leave. Instead, it was for two reasons: First, they wanted to double-check his identity—you know, to make sure they have the right person.
Secondly, the head of the Mossad, Isser Harel was there at the safe house to oversee the operation and he had received a report that Josef Mengele was also in Buenos Aires. So, they were looking for him and hoping they could bring Eichmann and Mengele back to Israel on the same flight.
Mengele, of course, was also known by the nickname “Angel of Death” because of the horrible things he did as an SS doctor at Auschwitz.
However, with all that said, I don’t mean to make it sound like they didn’t get Adolf Eichmann to sign a document that he was willing to return to Israel for judgment.
For this part of the true story, though, I’ll refer to an interview with Zvi Aharoni where he took issue with the idea that it was Peter Malkin who spoke to and convinced Eichmann to sign a document that he’s willing to go back to Israel.
Here’s a quote from that interview:
“In the safe house I was the one who interrogated Eichmann and the only one who was allowed to talk to him. As Eichmann’s interrogator, I was surprised to discover two things: first, how pathetic this man was who had conducted a vast and well-oiled system of mass annihilation; and second, that Eichmann had not insisted that his children change their name, and that they were still called Eichmann.
“When I asked him about this, he said he could not force them to change their name. I also persuaded him to come to Israel for judgment and got him to sign a letter stating that he was willing to go to Israel. The [general wording for the] text was provided to me by Haim Cohn [the attorney general]. Cohn thought this would facilitate the trial and might be of help if we were caught before leaving Argentine territory.
“Zvi Malkin did not speak German, and did not get Eichmann to sign the document stating that he was willing to go to Israel. I was the one who drew up the document with Eichmann, carefully and thoroughly, and after it was formulated I had him sign it. Avrum Shalom can testify to that.”
The article then goes on to interview Avrum Shalom who confirms what Aharoni said as well as Rafi Eitan, who is played by Nick Kroll in the movie. The real Eitan confirmed that it was only Aharoni who spoke to Eichmann in the safe house.
That’s a fascinating article filled with great interviews of the real people that I’ll make sure to include in the resources for this episode over at basedonatruestorypodcast.com.
Oh, and as a quick side note, during one of the conversations as Peter is shaving Eichmann, Eichmann says something to the effect of how he tried to save some Jews by sending them to Madagascar. He also mentions how he negotiated with Doctor Kasztner in Hungry to trade trucks for lives. Eichmann goes on to call Kastner a hero…but “your people” shot him in cold blood.
“Your people”, of course, being how Eichmann refers to the Jews.
That is actually true.
In August of 1940, Adolf Eichmann released a plan called the Madagascar Project. The plan called for a million Jews per year to be moved to Madagascar for the next four years. And it might have happened, too, if it weren’t for the British.
You see, right around that time was the Battle of Britain. What the Germans thought would be something that would force the British into a peace settlement ended up being a British victory. As a part of the Madagascar Project, it relied on the British not being at war with the Germans since the British fleet had a decent grasp on the Atlantic waterways they’d use to transport all those people. Some sources I saw even suggest that the Germans wanted to use British merchant ships to help with the transport.
But, with the British defeating the Germans in the Battle of Britain, the Madagascar Project was put on an indefinite hold and it never came to fruition.
That brings us to the brief mention of Dr. Kasztner. That’s another thing that really happened—even the part where Ben Kinsley’s version of Adolf Eichmann implies that Kasztner was a Jew who was shot by the Jews.
Dr. Rudolf Kasztner was a Hungarian-Jewish journalist and lawyer. In exchange for gold, money and precious stones, he negotiated with Adolf Eichmann in 1944 at a point when the Nazis were shipping some 12,000 or so Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz each day. In return for the payment, Kasztner was able to save over 1,600 Jews on what we now know as the Kastzner train.
That train consisted of 35 cattle trucks that made its way to safety in Switzerland, arriving toward the end of 1944.
And it is true that Kastzner would end up being assassinated in Israel after being accused of being a Nazi collaborator. The Israeli government sued the newsletter who accused Kastzner on his behalf.
Apparently, what had happened was that Kasztner learned of the mass murder in Auschwitz in April or May of 1944. The accusations against him said that instead of trying to warn a large number of Jews, he used the time to smuggle out a small number of people, including some wealthy who paid their own way to safety as well as Kasztner’s own family and 388 people from the ghetto of his home town.
So, basically, they accused Kasztner of using the information about the mass murders at Auschwitz in a self-serving manner to save people he knew instead of the community at large.
The government lost the case with the judge determining Kasztner had “sold his soul to the devil.” In March of 1957, Dr. Kastzner was assassinated in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The next major plot point in the movie happens when the Mossad agents sneak Adolf Eichmann out of the safehouse. The way the movie shows this, they have to sneak him out of the back door because some Nazis are looking for him. We haven’t really talked about them too much up until this point, but this group of Nazis are under the leadership of someone named Carlos Fuldner and includes Eichmann’s son, Klaus.
With the Nazis searching the streets for Eichmann and the agents wearing airline outfits as a disguise, they sneak Adolf Eichmann out of the back to a nearby car. Oh! And I didn’t mention this, but their plan was to drug Eichmann to make him look like he’s drunk…so that way he won’t call out for help.
This is probably the biggest inaccuracy in the movie.
It is true the plan was for the Mossad agents to dress as flight attendants and smuggle Eichmann out on an El Al aircraft by drugging him. In the movie, the doctor they bring along to administer the injection is a woman named Hanna Elian. She’s played by Mélanie Laurent in the movie.
In truth, the doctor on the mission was a man by the name of Dr. Yonah Elian. They changed him to a woman in the movie to give a love interest to Oscar Isaac’s character, Peter Malkin.
But it is true that Dr. Elian injected Adolf Eichmann with a sedative so they could pass him off as a drunken flight attendant to smuggle him onto the El Al plane and out of Argentina.
What isn’t true is that Eichmann’s son and some other Nazis in the area were searching for Eichmann and were so close to catching the agents that they had to sneak out the back door to avoid the Nazis at the front.
It also isn’t true that a Nazi in the air traffic control center hid the documents they needed to take off the plane in a way that forced Malkin to deliver the documents and watch as the rest of the agents took off just as Nazis arrived at the airport.
With that said, there was a search for Eichmann after he went missing. His immediate family called local hospitals thinking something had happened to him. They didn’t call the police, though. While they did have some connections with Nazi sympathizers, a lot of their old Nazi friends had heard of Adolf Eichmann’s capture and fled so they wouldn’t be caught next.
So, there wasn’t much of a search for Eichmann.
In truth, the mission went off without a hitch. They took Eichmann to the airport and the guards there believed he was a drunken flight attendant. Without any trouble, they were able to board the plane and leave. Although, Malkin wasn’t on board. Not because he had to deliver documents but rather because he didn’t even go to the airport with the rest of the agents. That wasn’t part of the plan.
There were six operatives who went on the plane with Eichmann. Malkin and the four other operatives on the team stayed behind. They had to clean up the safe house, return cars they had used in the operation, and so on. Once they did that, two of the operatives left by way of plane while the other three, including Malkin, took a train to Chile where they waited for a flight out of the country. There wasn’t one scheduled for at least a week.
Meanwhile, the other operatives arrived in Israel with Eichmann on May 22nd, 1960. On May 24th, the Prime Minister of Israel made this announcement:
“I have to inform the Knesset that, some time ago, Israeli security forces found one of the greatest Nazi criminals, Adolf Eichmann, who, together with other Nazi leaders, is responsible for what they termed The Final Solution of the Jewish question, in other words, the extermination of six million European Jews. Adolf Eichmann is already in this country under arrest and will shortly be brought to trial.”
Antisemitism erupted in Argentina among Nazi sympathizers who realized what had happened. While the movie doesn’t get into this side of it, in the weeks after Eichmann’s arrival in Israel, the Argentine government appealed to the United Nations Security Council. There was a debate that ensued. On one side, the Argentine government claimed the mission was a violation of Argentine law and their sovereignty.
The Israeli representative said the men who captured Eichmann weren’t working for the Israeli government. They were private citizens. The UNSC declared on June 23rd that Argentinian sovereignty had been violated. Then, after negotiations, on August 3rd, Argentina and Israel released a joint statement that basically said Israel would admit the mission was a violation of Argentine sovereignty, but they were both going to drop the dispute.
At the very end of the movie, time passes a bit. We see a date of 1961. We’re in Jerusalem now as we see a few snippets of Adolf Eichmann’s trial. He’s sitting in a glass box in front of a bench of men. Behind those men is a massive audience watching the trial.
Ghastly footage from the Holocaust is being shown for everyone—including Eichmann. We don’t get a lot of the trial itself, but at the very end of the movie there is some text on the screen that explains what happened.
According to the movie, Adolf Eichmann was hanged on June 1st, 1962 after being found guilty of transporting millions of people to their deaths. It also says his trial was televised globally, making it the first time that eyewitness testimony of the Holocaust was seen by the world. His remains were cremated and spread in the sea so he will not have a final resting place.
Since the focus of the movie is the mission to capture Eichmann and not his trial, this is a very high-level overview but generally speaking that’s pretty accurate.
Immediately after his arrival in Israel, Adolf Eichmann spent the next nine months at a heavily fortified police station while he was questioned. They gathered this evidence to use in the trial, and during this time Eichmann openly admitted to many things but also insisted he was acting on orders. He was just doing what he was told to do.
We can get a sense for the wording he used from a handwritten document by Adolf Eichmann where he made a plea to the judge during his trial. It was made public in 2016. Here’s a quote from that document, which was written by Eichmann on May 29th, 1962:
“There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders. I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”
He also said, “It is also incorrect that I never let myself be influenced by human emotions. Specifically, after having witnessed the outrageous human atrocities, I immediately asked to be transferred. Also, during the police investigation I voluntarily revealed horrors that had been unknown until then, in order to help establish the indisputable truth.”
Finally, he asked for a pardon:
“I am not able to recognize the court’s ruling as just, and I ask, Your Honor Mr. President, to exercise your right to grant pardons, and order that the death penalty not be carried out.”
His request for a pardon was denied.
At the beginning of this episode I mentioned the four counts that Hermann Goering was charged with during the trials at Nuremburg. On December 12th, 1961, Adolf Eichmann was convicted on 15 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, membership in a criminal organization and crimes against the Jewish people.
Three days later the sentence was handed down. Death by hanging.
But Eichmann and his lawyers appealed the verdict, so it went to the Israeli Supreme Court.
Even we don’t see any of this in the movie, there is something we see happen in the movie that happened during this time. While the appeal was being heard, one of the people who wrote to ask for clemency—mercy—on Adolf Eichmann’s behalf, was his wife—Vera. When it became obvious the appeal wouldn’t go through, Vera asked the judge for something else. She asked to see her husband.
In the movie, we see this as a request that Oscar Isaac’s version of Peter Malkin promises to Adolf Eichmann in exchange for Eichmann’s signing the document at the safe house in Argentina.
That visit did happen, but it’d seem it was coordinated by Dov Yosef, the justice minister at the time. He determined that Israel would receive international criticism if they denied Vera’s request. So, they let the meeting happen on one condition.
That condition was that she would see him and then, within 24 hours, leave the country. They also made sure the two were never alone together so she couldn’t slip him something he could take to prevent them from administering justice as the movie pointed out had happened for Hitler, Himmler and Goering.
Adolf Eichmann’s appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court was officially denied on May 31st at 8:00 PM local time. A few minutes past midnight on June 1st, 1960 the sentence was carried out.
As the story goes, his final words were:
“Long live Germany. Long live Argentina. Long live Austria. These are the three countries with which I have been most connected and which I will not forget. I greet my wife, my family and my friends. I am ready. We’ll meet again soon, as is the fate of all men. I die believing in God.”
However, one of the men who was involved in capturing Eichmann was also at the hanging. That’d be Rafi Eitan, who is played by Nick Kroll in the movie. In 2014, Rafi explained that after Eichmann said those words, he uttered one more thing under his breath.
Eichmann’s final words were actually one last message of hatred directed at his Jewish captors: “I hope that all of you will follow me.”
Just like the movie says, Adolf Eichmann’s body was cremated and scattered in the Mediterranean Sea.
If we head back to the movie, something we didn’t really talk about much was Peter’s sister and her three children. We see her throughout the movie in flashbacks and get the story that she was murdered by Nazis somewhere in the woods.
Her name, we learned earlier when Malkin was talking to Eichmann about her, was Fruma. Then, in the final moments of the movie, she shows up again. Her showing up at the end of the movie is clearly something Peter’s imagining, but she kisses him on the cheek before going peacefully into the woods with her kids. It’s a sort of peace as if to say, “Thank you” for helping to bring the architect of her murder and the murder of millions more to justice.
Then, in the text at the end of the movie, it says that Peter kept the mission to capture Eichmann a secret from his mother until she was on her deathbed. When he finally told her about the mission, her reply was simply, “I knew you wouldn’t forget Fruma.”
Fruma was a real person and she really was Peter Malkin’s sister. His book is dedicated to her. It’s also true that Peter told his mother about the mission on her deathbed. Even though everyone in the world knew about how Eichmann had been captured, they didn’t know the details of it. Like most top-secret missions, the details were still classified at that time.
And while the exact words the movie mentions aren’t the ones he has in his book when he told his mother, the idea is basically the same. Fruma was never forgotten.