The Hangman of Eichmann

On May 23, 1960, I was helping my mother, an Auschwitz survivor, in the kitchen when the radio announced, “The Nazi war criminal and the architect of the ‘Final Solution’ is in Israel and will stand trial.”

Our once large family had lost 98% of its members to Adolf Eichmann’s death trains in Auschwitz. My mom’s first tearful then angry reaction to the news on the radio was simply indescribable. That moment will never leave my soul.

The author at the infamous gate of Auschwitz

In May 1960, Mossad smuggled a team of experienced agents into Argentina, acting upon the information that Fritz Bauer, a Jewish-born German prosecutor, had passed on: Eichmann was hiding in Buenos Aires under the alias Ricardo Clement. Knowing that Argentina might never extradite Eichmann for trial, Israel decided to abduct him and take him illegally.

On May 11, a team of hand-picked Mossad operatives descended on Garibaldi Street in San Fernando. Under the supervision of legendary operative Raffi Eitan, Peter Zvi Malkin physically captured Eichmann as he was walking home from the bus. The capture was directed by the then Head of the Mossad Isser Harel. (Years later, several members of the capture team related details of the operation to me.)

Eichmann’s family called local hospitals — but not the police — and Argentina knew nothing of the operation. So on May 20, Mossad was able to fly a drugged Eichmann out of Argentina, disguised as an Israeli airline worker who had suffered head trauma. And on May 23, 1960, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced that Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann had been captured and would stand trial in Israel.

“I have to inform the Knesset that a short time ago, one of the greatest of the Nazi war criminals, Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible, together with the Nazi leaders, for what they called ‘the final solution’ of the Jewish question, that is, the extermination of 6,000,000 of the Jews of Europe, was found by the Israeli Security Services” Ben-Gurion stated. “Adolf Eichmann is already under arrest … and will shortly be placed on trial in Israel under the terms of the law for the trial of Nazis and their collaborators.”

For nine months, Israel Police Captain Avner Less served as Eichmann’s interrogator, questioning him daily. He was the only investigator allowed to speak to Eichmann. The transcripts of the 275 hours of interrogation were forwarded to prosecutors.

Argentina demanded Eichmann’s return, but Israel argued that his status as an international war criminal gave them the right to proceed with a trial. On April 11, 1961, Eichmann’s trial began in Jerusalem. It was the first televised trial in history.

Attorney General Gideon Hausner said in his opening speech at the trial, “When I stand before you here, Judges of Israel, to lead the Prosecution of Adolf Eichmann, I am not standing alone. With me are six million accusers, but they cannot rise to their feet and point an accusing finger towards him who sits in the dock and cry, ‘I accuse.’ For their ashes are piled up on the hills of Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka and are strewn in the forests of Poland. Their graves are scattered throughout the length and breadth of Europe. Their blood cries out, but their voice is not heard. Therefore, I will be their spokesman, and, in their name, I will unfold the terrible indictment.”

Eichmann faced 15 charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and war crimes. He claimed he was just following orders, but the judges disagreed, finding him guilty on all counts on December 15 and sentencing him to death.

On June 1, 1962, Eichmann was hanged at a prison in Ramla. The execution was attended by a small group of officials, four journalists — including Holocaust survivor and Hungarian-Jewish “Uj Kelet” journalist Dr. Paul Benedek — and spymaster Raffi Eitan. In 2014, Eitan claimed to have heard Eichmann mumble, “I hope that all of you will follow me” as his final words.

Most of those involved in Israel’s first and only execution are no longer living. But the guard who spent most of Eichmann’s incarceration guarding him, a soft-spoken man named Shalom Nagar, was brought to the limelight some years ago, when an Israeli radio station wanted to produce an anniversary program on Eichmann’s capture and hanging. After sifting through prison records and following tips from former prison employees, the radio station located Nagar, “the short Yemenite guard,” as he was remembered, and asked him to reveal the memories he had stored away for so many years.

Eichmann’s hanging was where my story began. As a child of survivors, I tried to uncover as many small details of the capture, trial and execution of that unrepentant Nazi as possible. I transcribed the interview and followed its threads…

Eichmann’s Guard

At the time of the interview, Nagar, having retired from the Prisons Services, was living in Kiryat Arba and learning in Kollel from dawn to midnight. But he spoke about his time guarding the Nazi war criminal. “I guarded him for six months in Ramle.” He said on the radio program. “I was one of the 22 guards. We were called ‘Eichmann’s guards.’ They put him in a special wing on the second floor. We called it Eichmann’s ‘apartment.’ … He was protected by so many guards because there was reason to believe that he might want to take his own life, and we were to prevent that at all costs.

“They didn’t trust anyone. Whenever his attorney came, I’d lead Eichmann in from one side, while the lawyer would come from the other side. They sat across from each other with a bullet-proof glass between them and used a microphone to communicate. They could speak but not actually touch or pass anything because the lawyer might pass him poison or something.

“During the entire Eichmann trial, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion personally made sure that any prison guards in the vicinity of Eichmann on the sealed-off second floor of the prison were Sephardic, as he was certain that Ashkenazi Jews whose families were among the millions sent to their deaths by Eichmann would harm him,” Nagar said.

“For years, I was sworn to secrecy. My commanders feared reprisals from neo-Nazis and others who thought Eichmann was a hero. But Isser Harel, the Mossad chief in charge of Eichmann’s capture in Argentina, had already written a book about it, so what did I have to fear? Besides, I was involved in the great mitzvah of wiping out Amalek [the implacable enemy of the Jews].”

Nagar recalled the events that led up to that fateful night. The police summoned a man named Pinchas Zeklikovsky for a special mission. Zeklikovsky, whose family was wiped out by the Nazis, worked for an oven factory in Petach Tikvah and was an expert oven builder. He was asked to build an oven the size of a man’s body, which would reach 1,800°C. He worked on the oven in the factory, telling inquirers that it was a special order for a factory in Eilat that burned fish bones.

The original gloves used in the capture of Adolf Eichmann. Mossad agent Peter Malkin used these gloves during the capture operation as he did not want to touch the mouth of the monster who sent eleven million human beings to their deaths.

On the afternoon of May 31, 1962, after the other workers left, an army truck rolled into the oven factory and loaded the oven. Under heavy guard, the oven made its way to Ramla Prison. All the preparations were done secretly, for fear of sabotage by Eichmann’s supporters. Streets around the prison were cordoned off for several blocks that afternoon.

That same day, Nagar was on a 48-hour furlough. He was walking with his wife, Orah, and infant son in his Holon neighborhood when a police van screeched to a halt in front of him and pulled him inside. It was his colleague Merchavi. Nagar knew immediately what this special invitation was about. “I realized I had won the ‘lottery,’” he reflected.

Nagar responded to Merchavi, “You now have a problem because although you want the hanging kept top-secret, my wife thinks I’ve been kidnapped. She’ll call the police.” Merchavi allowed Nagar to explain to Orah that he’d be working late.

Nagar remembered that when he arrived at Ramle, “I was given a stretcher, some sheets and bandages and was told to go and wait downstairs. Meanwhile, upstairs, Eichmann was with the priest and —according to his last wish — was given a glass of wine. By the time I was summoned, the noose was already around his neck, and he was standing on a specially-made trap door, which would open under him when I would pull the lever.”

According to an official account, there were supposedly two people who would pull the lever simultaneously, so neither would know for sure by whose hand Eichmann died. But Nagar said he knew nothing about that. “I didn’t see anyone else there. It was just me and Eichmann. I was standing a few feet from him and looked him straight in the eye. He refused to have his face covered, and he was still wearing those trademark checkered slippers. Then I pulled the lever, and he fell, dangling by the rope.”

After an hour, Nagar and Merchavi went downstairs to release the body. A scaffold had been built to reach him. “Merchavi told me to climb the scaffold and lift him, and then he would loosen the rope,” Nagar said. “For years, I had nightmares of those moments. His face was white as chalk, his eyes were bulging and his tongue was dangling out. The rope rubbed the skin off his neck, and his tongue and chest were covered with blood. I didn’t know that when a person is strangled, all the air remains in his stomach. So, when I lifted him, all the air that was inside came out, and the most horrifying sound was released from his mouth — ‘baaaaahhhh’ — I felt the Angel of Death had come to take me too.”

“I felt the Angel of Death had come to take me too.”

“Finally, a few other guards arrived, and we managed to get him onto the stretcher we had prepared earlier. We took him to the other side of the courtyard, where the oven was waiting. One of the guards, [whose] name was Luchs and … had been in Auschwitz, was given the job of heating the oven. … They’d built tracks so that the stretcher could slide into it. It was my job to push the stretcher into the oven, but I was shaking so hard that the body kept rolling from side to side. Finally, I was able to push him in, and we closed the doors.”

Nagar was slated to escort the ashes to the port, but he was in such a state of trauma that Merchavi had him sent home with an escort. In the very early hours of the morning, the ashes were removed from the oven and transported by police van to Jaffa Port, where a Coast Guard boat carried them beyond Israel’s territorial waters so that they would not defile the Holy Land.

In addition to this trauma, Nagar had a hard life. He faced the most difficult time when his beloved son Noam succumbed to cancer. But he always remained optimistic, going on to become one of the first to live in Kiriat Arba, “Town of the Four,” an urban Israeli settlement on the outskirts of Hebron.

The author on the rail tracks of Birkenau.

Caring for Nagar

I decided to share Nagar’s story now, in all of its details, because my mom, who survived Auschwitz and Belsen, never got to hear it. I feel that Nagar’s story remains acutely relevant to our times — especially for those who come from families of Shoah survivors. And we can still protect and care for heroes like Nagar.

For example, a couple of weeks ago, an early morning phone call woke me. The call came from a former Israeli Intelligence Operative Avner Avraham, who reached out to me to let me know that Nagar was living at his modest home in poor medical condition. Within minutes of receiving a WhatsApp photo of the ailing Nagar, I was on the phone, reaching out to my best connections in Israel to find a suitable, medically supervised old age home for the last living hero of the era.

Everyone acted immediately. Within an hour, I spoke with several descendants of Holocaust families in North America, and they all offered to help finance the proper care for Nagar. Now, Nagar is enjoying the comfort and safety of a first-rate old age home, under the care of top doctors and nurses. He participates in daily prayer services and is very happy. I will take comfort in the fact that I helped Nagar in the name of the millions of martyrs — and my many family members — who perished during the Holocaust. I am sure my parents would be proud of me.

If anyone reading this article — especially if you are a descendant of families decimated by the Holocaust — would like to offer your help by contributing to his ongoing care, you can reach me via this newspaper or by contacting me at [email protected] 

Gabriel Erem is a successful serial entrepreneur and active philanthropist with a deep passion for Tikkun Olam.


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