The Nazi Hunters: How a Team of Spies and Survivors Captured the World’s Most Notorious Nazi by Neal Bascomb. Arthur A. Levine Books, an imprint of Scholastic Inc. 2013. Library copy. YALSA Nonfiction Award Shortlist.
Eichmann had been in charge of “Jewish affairs,” the head of operations for the Final Solution. In the chaos of the aftermath of World War II, he had disappeared.
The Nazi Hunters traces the rumors of Eichmann being in Argentina; the steps to investigate whether the old man living in a small house is, indeed, the man responsible for the death of millions of men, women, and children. And, then, what was involved in Israel sending in a team to capture Eichmann and get him back to Israel for a trial.
The Plot: The Nazi Hunters tells two complicated stories, both with a lot of characters. (A list of characters at the front of the book helps the reader keep track.) One is the story of Eichmann, what he did, his escape to Argentina, how his family joins him. It’s the story of the Final Solution, and includes the stories of survivors.
The other is the story of discovering Eichmann and what happens then. It includes Nazi Hunters like Simon Wiesenthal, and ordinary people like the young woman in Argentina who brings a boyfriend home only to realize it’s the son of Eichmann. It’s the story of the various Israelis involved in the mission. And, it’s a story that has required some secrecy because of how dangerous it was. Eichmann was in Argentina in part because it was known to be favorable to Nazis; people were risking their lives in helping to capture them. It’s a fascinating, intense story of spies, many who survived the Holocaust and lost loved ones.
It’s also the story of civilians, people just doing the right thing. Sylvia Hermann, for example, the young woman who brought Nick Eichmann to meet her parents in 1956. Nick was born Klaus Eichmann, and was about 20 at the time. He’d been nine when the war ended; lived through his father’s disappearance, to then be reunited with him in the 1950s. To get an idea of how safe it was in Argentina: while Eichmann himself was living under an assumed name, his three oldest sons were using “Eichmann.” Nick boasted that his father had been a high ranking official; he said the Germans should have “finished the job.” Sylvia’s father was half-Jewish, something kept secret because of the continuing prejudices in Argentina. When father and daughter later realized that Nick’s father was Adolf Eichmann, they wrote to a German prosecutor. This was a crucial beginning to the search and capture of Eichmann.
Part of what The Nazi Hunters does is explain just why capturing and trying Eichmann is so important. Revenge and vengeance, even, some would argue, justice, would be served by an assassination. It would also, arguably, be safer for international relations — what Israel was doing was going into another country, kidnapping someone, and then spiriting them out of the country. Doing that was dangerous, as was the risks of what would happen later.
The government of Israel wanted something public. They wanted to remind the world what had happened. “Bringing the fugitive to justice and airing his crimes in a public trial would remind the world of the Nazi atrocities, and the need to remain vigilant against any groups that aimed to repeat them.” This also gives the reason why The Nazi Hunters is a needed book: it’s been over fifty years since Eichmann was tried and executed, but hate groups remain; people deny the Holocaust happened; and other atrocities take place. The Nazi Hunters is both a powerful tale, and a reminder, but it also serves to show: justice will not be denied.