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Flatbush Flashback

Our Bin Laden

Adolf Eichmann, the Bin Laden of an older generation.

I'm not going to get into a discussion here of Zero Dark Thirty, which I saw the other night. Suffice it to say, it held my attention and it's a film worth seeing. But it did put me in the mind of something that happened a half century ago, and that I'm currently writing about in Bobby in Naziland, a novel that might be described as a fictional work of historical nonfiction.

If you were born at a certain time, of a certain religion, and grew up in a place where an ungodly number of your neighbors were Auschwitz survivors, then you were aware of an ongoing manhunt for a certain war criminal. And the story of this manhunt was as galvanizing as the story told in Zero Dark Thirty. The difference between Adolf Eichmann and Osama bin Laden was that Eichmann, who organized "The Final Solution," was on the run for 15 years and was responsible for the deaths of six million people. I describe him in my book as "the swastika-spangled Gestapo monster lurking under my bed."

Bobby in Naziland is as much about how memory works and the accuracy of memory as it is about what the narrator remembers. And if there was one thing I remembered chapter and verse, it was the story of Eichmann’s final days, from his capture to his execution: kidnapped off the streets of Buenos Aires… brought back to Israel to stand trial… the man in the glass booth… “I was only following orders”… hung… cremated… ashes scattered.

But as I was writing this story, I realized there was something missing: How, exactly, did the Mossad find Eichmann?

That’s when I discovered that this information wasn’t made public until 2001: A blind refugee who did time in Dachau before the war and then fled to Argentina was the man who found Eichmann out. His name is Lothar Hermann, and he did such a good job of concealing his Jewish identity that his daughter Sylvia, unaware that she was Jewish, began dating Eichmann’s son Klaus, who used his real name. Young Eichmann would come to the Hermann house, brag about his father being a high-ranking Gestapo officer, and tell the Hermanns that the only mistake the Nazis made was not exterminating all the Jews. Lothar Hermann wrote a letter to the German authorities who, in turn, tipped off Israel. The Mossad took it from there, and four years after Hermann made his shocking discovery, the Israeli agents pulled off their famous kidnapping and took all the credit, too.

At least that’s the story in a nutshell. I’m still waiting to see the movie.

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