Buenos Aries, Argentina, May 1960. Night has descended. In a quiet section of that city a select group of men, members of the Israeli intelligence organization Mossad, are positioned strategically on a quiet street. They must be inconspicuous and arouse no suspicion. Their mission is to apprehend a man returning home after a day’s work.The regularity of the man’s routine had been carefully scrutinized. He goes by an assumed name but the intrepid squad is certain of his real identity. Finally their man arrives, steps off the bus and walks toward his home.
Swiftly he is set upon and dragged into the back seat of a waiting car. The group’s target is Adolf Eichmann, the notorious high-ranking Nazi who slipped the Allied net at the end of World War II. Since 1950 he has been living under an alias in South America with his wife and family. Eichmann was the meticulous administrator of the Final Solution, the malefic system of arresting, assembling, mass transporting and ultimately exterminating millions of innocent Jewish men, women and children. The captured Eichmann is surreptitiously flown out of Argentina to Israel.
In “Eichmann’s Executioner,” Astrid Dehe and Achim Engstler present a dramatized story of the real-life Shalom Nagar. As a teen Nagar had migrated to Israel from Yemen. He became a soldier and was one of 22 guards responsible for the safety of the jailed Eichmann. Kept in a cell in Jerusalem, it was imperative that the prisoner be closely protected and not shot or poisoned in order for him to stand trial before the world for the atrocities he orchestrated.
This work of fiction is a conversation between Nagar and Moshe, a man in a wheelchair who is introduced to Nagar by, a friend named Ben. On the outskirts of Tel Aviv among his ramshackle coops and pens of chickens, geese and sheep, Nagar is a kosher butcher, a folk healer, an irrepressible story teller “laden with tales of Adolf Eichmann — they come pouring, splashing, spouting out, never ending, never stopping. Eichmann, Eichmann, Eichmann. Nagar has lived with him for fifty years.” Indeed he is haunted by the Nazi’s ghost.
In the course of Eichmann’s imprisonment Nagar had spent considerable amounts of time alone in the Nazi’s presence. After the death sentence was imposed each of his comrades in the military guard was eager to be the one to send Eichmann to his end by hanging. Nagar was the only soldier who did not want to have a hand in it. Yet on drawing lots he drew the short straw. When the order was given he sent Eichmann through the trap door of the gallows. Despite the magnitude of Eichmann’s crimes and widespread agreement that justice was served Nagar is made ill and traumatized by his intimate proximity to the hideous visage of Eichmann’s dangling corpse.
Nagar’s commander orders him to hoist up the dead man so the noose can be removed from Eichmann’s neck. With the rope off the expired Nazi exhaled residual air from his stomach right into the young soldier’s face. Nagar recalls in that moment the corpse said something to him: “And all the blood shot out of his mouth with the words. He spat in my face. The commander was safe behind me. All the blood hit me.”
Years later Nagar finds refuge at his shed surrounded by implements of his butcher’s trade. Ben asks why he feels so safe in this simple place? Nagar responds that Eichmann could never stand the sight of blood. Before Eichmann was assigned the task of monitoring genocide from a distance, Nazi officials “sent him to the East. It was his job to report on ... how the Jews were being murdered. They were shot. Hounded into pits, naked, and then the Germans shot them. Eichmann couldn’t bear to watch. He looked away and waited until the pits were full and covered with mud.” Nagar the butcher is surrounded by ample amounts of animal blood enough to keep the menacing shade of Eichmann at bay. He wonders, “How can someone who’s evil be afraid?”
Some of Nagar’s tales take on a surreal hue. Consistency and factuality are not a concern. As for Moshe, he also admits to having been obsessed with Eichmann. In addition to his internal ruminations, a portion of his commentary weaving throughout the book is contained in his typewritten accounts. After his exposure to the myriad and sometimes vertiginous reflections shared by Nagar, Moshe is compelled to reveal his own improbable tale. He promises an astonishing revelation: “An Eichmann story you’ve never heard before. One no one has ever heard. Bring Nagar here. Take him by the hand, blindfold him if need be, let him sing and hum all the way, but bring him to me.”
At the trial, Eichmann was seated behind a bulletproof cage from which he insisted repeatedly that he had just been doing his job, that he had not killed anyone and had only followed orders he was given by superiors. It was a shocking display of arrogance, immorality and nihilistic indifference.
The story of Shalom, Moshe and Ben ends with their visit to the prison to find the oven that incinerated Eichmann’s body. A guard tells them that due to an inability to properly operate the apparatus, the cadaver was not completely reduced to ashes. The ashes were spread at sea, but some of the remains were buried. Ben asks, “Buried? Where?” “Somewhere nearby,” the guard says, and makes a vague sweeping gesture. “Perhaps here, where we are standing.”
Years after Eichmann’s death the celebrated monk and poet Thomas Merton composed an essay, “A Devout Meditation in Memory of Adolf Eichmann.” Therein Merton mused, “One of the most disturbing facts that came out in the Eichmann trial was that a psychiatrist examined him and pronounced him perfectly sane. I do not doubt it at all, and that is precisely why I find it disturbing.”
Wait, there's more. Check out the full January 17th issue.