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The Weekly Blague

The Day They Hanged Eichmann

Schoolkids in June Zero reading an Israeli tabloid featuring Adolf Eichmann on the cover. Photo courtesy of the New York Jewish Film Festival and Film at Lincoln Center.


In 1960, the Mossad kidnapped Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Final Solution, off a Buenos Aires street and spirited him back to Israel, where he was tried, convicted of crimes against humanity, sentenced to death, and in 1962, hanged. Israeli authorities wanted to quickly cremate the Gestapo colonel and scatter his ashes at sea before his family could claim the body. They didn't want Eichmann's grave to become a Nazi shrine. But the Jewish religion at the time forbade cremation, and there were no crematoria in Israel. June Zero, an extraordinary film directed by Jake Paltrow, tells the story of how a crematorium was built specifically for Eichmann. There's not a wasted frame or moment that doesn't matter in this intertwining tale of a young Jewish Arab who works at the furnace factory where the crematorium is built; a prison official who guards Eichmann; and an Israeli policeman, a Holocaust survivor, who interrogated Eichmann.


June Zero, the "date," according to Israeli officials, that Eichmann was hanged, serves as a sequel to Operation Finale, the 2018 film about Eichmann's capture, and is a parallel story to the Eichmann section of my book A Brooklyn Memoir, about how the people of Flatbush, a neighborhood where many Holocaust survivors lived, reacted to Eichmann's capture, trial, and execution.


In Hebrew and English with English subtitles.


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Why I Wrote the Book


An expanded version of this post appeared on the Oil on Water Press site. The paragraph below is drawn from the afterword of A Brooklyn Memoir.


A Brooklyn Memoir is an attempt to make sense of a confusing past that for most of my life I pretended didn't exist. The seeds of A Brooklyn Memoir can be found in the opening pages of my previous book, Beaver Street—a description of the scene in my father's candy store in 1961. As I wrote those pages, I knew that I was only scratching the surface, and that whatever was happening in Flatbush in the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, from the final days of the Brooklyn Dodgers to the arrival of the Beatles, was rich material that demanded further exploration. So I wrote down everything I could remember about that time and place, and when I looked back at the 400 single-spaced pages of notes, fragments, anecdotes, and ideas that had accumulated, what jumped out at me were Nazis—they were everywhere, like in the souvenirs my father brought home from the war and in the numbers on the arms of my neighbors. In one way or another, it was Nazis and the Holocaust that provided much of the inspiration I needed to write this book.


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“I am not Josef Mengele!”


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.



Bobby in Naziland is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore, where you'll hopefully be able to buy it again someday soon.


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Mi hechizo latinoamericano/My Latin American Mojo

América latina, para mí, es un universo alternativo, donde todo en lo que yo he estado trabajando, por los últimos 40 años, ha llegado a suceder en un lenguaje, que apenas puedo entender.

Cuando yo fui a la ciudad de México, en 2003, poco después que Random House Mondadori (desde entonces re-nombrada Penguin Random House), publicara por primera vez Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, y cuando retorné a México en 2005, y luego fui a Chile, los medios de esos países reaccionaron a mi visita, como si yo fuera el autor de Harry Potter. Mi rostro fue desplegado en toda la tv, los periódicos y las revistas en una extensión tan desconcertante, que la gente me reconocía en la calle, y así confirmé la verdad esencial de la antigua cita de Woody Allen: “El ochenta por ciento del éxito está apareciendo”. Y eso es especialmente cierto, si tú estás apareciendo en un lugar a 5,000 millas de distancia.

¿Pero seguiría mi hechizo latinoamericano funcionando, en 2017, para una edición española ampliada y re-traducida de Nowhere Man? La respuesta, estoy feliz de reportar, fue un resonante “sí”, y yo incluso no tuve que salir de mi casa para poner las cosas en marcha. Empezó en el cumpleaños de Lennon, el 9 de octubre —el día que la nueva edición fue publicada—, cuando el periódico chileno La Tercera divulgó un extracto de Nowhere Man, y lo continuó al día siguiente con una entrevista.

Un mes más tarde, un artículo sobre el libro en el semanario mexicano Proceso, de Roberto Ponce, basado en parte en una entrevista publicada en el sitio argentino Espectador, envió Nowhere Man a la cima de las listas en Amazon de México.

Entonces las cosas se pusieron surrealistas. Las noticias anunciaron por todo el mundo, el 21 de noviembre, que los diarios robados de John Lennon —los diarios que yo transcribí en 1981, y que habían servido como un mapa de ruta para Nowhere Man—, habían sido recuperados en una casa de subastas en Berlín. Yo no sabía que el chofer de Yoko Ono había, supuestamente, robado los diarios. (Él afirma que no los robó). Pensaba que los diarios habían sido devueltos a Ono en 1982. Aún más sorprendente fue que los medios españoles y latinoamericanos, estaban citando extensamente de Nowhere Man, dándome la clase de publicidad que el dinero no puede comprar.

Yo arribé a Buenos Aires para el lanzamiento oficial el 27 de noviembre. ¿Por qué Buenos Aires? Déjenme contar las razones: mi traductor René Portas y mi agente argentina, Beatriz Norma Iacoviello, viven allí. Argentina es un país que adora tanto a los Beatles como la literatura. (El apartamento de Beatriz y René está a la vuelta de la esquina, de donde Jorge Luis Borges vivió alguna vez.) Yo nací 12 horas después que Eva Perón muriera, y siempre he sentido una conexión con ella y la ciudad. Y como un bono extra añadido, mi amigo Avi Avner estaba en la ciudad, actuando como consultante principal de la Mossad, para la película Operación Final, sobre la captura de Adolf Eichmann en Buenos Aires, cual es asimismo un tema en mi libro aún no publicado, Bobby en Nazilandia.

Lo más destacado de los medios sobre mi estadía en la capital argentina, incluye una entrevista en vivo en el programa de Martín Aragón, Eternamente Beatles, con Octavio Cavalli sirviendo como mi traductor; una entrevista con Luis Kramer para su programa, Cinefilia; y una extensa entrevista grabada en video con Vanesa Preli de Radio Zonica, que aún no está al aire.

Había más por venir cuando retorné a Nueva York: un extracto del libro en Proceso, un artículo sobre eso en Cultura Colectiva y un episodio titulado “El misterio de John Lennon”, escuchado más de 72,000 veces, en el programa de radio de internet del periodista español Iker Jiménez, Universo Iker.

Porque yo trabajo para Vanity Fair en Nueva York, mi trozo de prensa favorito fue una pieza humorísticamente salaz, titulada “Los oscuros secretos sexuales de John Lennon”, de Alejandro Mancilla, que apareció en Vanity Fair de México. Inspirado por una crítica de Rodrigo Fresan, publicada en Página 12 en el 2000, el artículo es, más o menos, un estudio de las escenas de sexo en Nowhere Man. Su toque más surrealista es ver mi nombre en negrita, al lado de algunos como Louis C.K. y Miley Cyrus.

¡Yeah, baby, yo aún tengo mi hechizo!

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My Latin American Mojo

Latin America, to me, is an alternate universe where everything I’ve been working for, for the past 40 years, has come to pass in a language I can barely understand.

When I went to Mexico City, in 2003, soon after Random House Mondadori (since renamed Penguin Random House) first published Nowhere Man: Los últimos días de John Lennon, and when I returned to Mexico, in 2005, and then went on to Chile, the media in those countries reacted to my visit if I were the author of Harry Potter. My face was splashed all over TV, newspapers, and magazines to the disorienting extent that people recognized me in the street, thus confirming the essential truth of the old Woody Allen quote, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” And it’s especially true if you’re showing up in a place 5,000 miles away.

But would my Latin American Mojo still be working, in 2017, for a retranslated and expanded Spanish edition of Nowhere Man? The answer, I’m happy to report, was a resounding Yes, and I didn’t even have to leave my house to get things going. It began on Lennon’s birthday, October 9—the day the new edition was published—when the Chilean newspaper La Tercera ran an excerpt from Nowhere Man and followed it up the next day with an interview.

A month later, an article about the book in the Mexican newsweekly Proceso, by Roberto Ponce, based in part on an interview published on the Argentine site Espectador, sent Nowhere Man to the top of the charts on Amazon Mexico.

Then things got surreal. News broke all over the world, on November 21, that John Lennon’s stolen diaries—the diaries that I’d transcribed in 1981, and had served as roadmap for Nowhere Man—were recovered in an auction house in Berlin. I didn’t know that Yoko Ono’s chauffeur had allegedly stolen the diaries. (He claims he didn’t steal them.) I thought the diaries had been returned to Ono in 1982. Even more shocking was that Spanish and Latin American media were quoting extensively from Nowhere Man, giving me the kind of publicity that money can’t buy.

I arrived in Buenos Aires for the official launch on November 27. Why Buenos Aires? Let me count the reasons: My translator René Portas and my Argentine agent, Beatriz Norma Iacoviello, live there. Agentina is a country that worships both the Beatles and literature. (René and Beatriz’s apartment is around the corner from where Jorge Luis Borges once lived.) I was born 12 hours after Eva Peron died, and have always felt a connection to her and the city. And as an extra added bonus, my friend Avi Avner was in town, acting as chief Mossad consultant for the film Operation Finale, about Adolf Eichmann’s capture in Buenos Aires, which is also a theme in my still unpublished book, Bobby in Naziland.

The media highlights of my stay in the Argentine capital include a live interview on Martín Aragón’s show, Eternamente Beatles (Beatles Forever), with Octavio Cavalli serving as my translator; an interview with Luis Kramer for his show, Cinefilia (think Terry Gross and NPR); and an extensive videotaped interview with Vanesa Preli of Radio Zonica that has yet to air.

There was more to come when I returned to New York: an excerpt of the book in Proceso, an article about it in Cultura Colectiva, and an episode titled “El misterio de John Lennon” (“The Mystery of John Lennon”), listened to more than 72,000 times, on Spanish journalist Iker Jiménez’s Internet radio show, Universo Iker.

Because I work for Vanity Fair in New York, my favorite bit of press was a humorously salacious piece, titled “Los oscuros secretos sexuales de John Lennon” (“The Dark Sexual Secrets of John Lennon”), by Alejandro Mancilla, that ran in Vanity Fair Mexico. Inspired by a critique by Rodrigo Fresan, published in Pagina 12, in 2000, the article is, more or less, a survey of the sex scenes in Nowhere Man. Its most surreal touch is seeing my name in boldface alongside the likes of Louis C.K. and Miley Cyrus.

Yeah, baby, I've still got my mojo!

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