In May 1960, news of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's capture was flashed around the world. According to the official story, Mossad agents had snatched the Gestapo colonel off a street in Buenos Aires, where he was living under an assumed name, and spirited him back to Israel. There, Eichmann was charged with crimes against humanity, tried, found guilty, and hanged.
The most surprising thing I learned while doing background research for Bobby in Naziland was that the official story, which had endured for 40 years, had left out one crucial detail: how, exactly, the Mossad—the Jewish CIA—found Eichmann, the logistics expert responsible for organizing the "Final Solution."
That detail came to light in 2000, when the Israeli government quietly declassified the Eichmann file, which contained the story of Lothar Hermann and his teenage daughter, Sylvia.
Lothar, a half-Jewish former Dachau inmate, had fled to Argentina in the aftermath of Kristallnacht. There, Sylvia, who was raised Catholic and was unaware of her father's history, began dating Eichmann's son Klaus, who used his real last name, bragged to the Hermanns about his father's being a high-ranking Gestapo officer, and told them that the only mistake the Nazis made was that they'd failed to exterminate all the Jews.
Lothar tipped off the German authorities, who relayed the information to the Mossad. Sylvia, acting as a spy for the Mossad, gave them detailed information on Eichmann's whereabouts.
Until 2000, the story of Lothar and Sylvia Hermann remained unknown, even to their relatives who lived in Argentina. The 2018 release of Operation Finale, a film about Eichmann's capture, starring Ben Kingsley as Eichmann, brought some attention to the father and daughter, as did a traveling museum exhibition of the same name, co-produced by the Mossad.
But neither the film nor the exhibition touched on another disturbing aspect of the story, which I detail in Bobby in Naziland. According to a contemporaneous account in the March 24, 1961 issue of the Argentine newspaper El Imparcial, a year after Eichmann's capture, the Mossad accused Lothar Hermann of being Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, arrested him, held him for 15 days, tortured him, and then released him when an analysis of his fingerprints showed he wasn't Mengele.
"No Soy Jose Mengele", nos declaro enfaticamente Lothar Hermann, the El Imparcial banner headline says ("I am not Josef Mengele," Lothar Hermann told us emphatically).
A more recent article, in one of the main Argentine newspapers, Clarin, published on November 27, 2011, also says that the Mossad arrested Hermann, accused him of being Mengele, and tortured him.
When I was in Buenos Aries, in 2017, I asked Argentine journalist Rolando Gallego if he knew about Lothar Hermann, and if it was true that the Mossad had arrested and tortured him. It was "common knowledge," he said.
I also asked former Mossad agent Avner Avraham, who curated the Operation Finale exhibition and was a consultant on the film, about Lothar Hermann's arrest and torture. He denied that it happened. "Why would the Mossad do that?" he said. "It makes no sense."
The Mossad would do that, apparently, because they mistook him for Mengele. Therefore, I included the story of Lothar Hermann's arrest and torture in Bobby in Naziland, attributing it to the contemporaneous account in El Imparcial.