Peter Zvi Malkin was a Mossad intelligence agent who captured escaped Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina in 1960 and brought him to Israel to stand trial.
Zvi was born in Germany in 1927 to an observant Jewish family. As Jew-hatred reached a fever pitch in Germany, in 1936 he emigrated with his parents to Palestine. His sister Fruma stayed behind with her three children; they along with 150 other relatives were murdered in the Holocaust.
At age 12, the precocious Zvi was recruited by a teacher into the Haganah, a paramilitary group created to defend Jewish communities from Arab attacks and fight the British army. After Israeli independence in 1948, the Haganah became the Israel Defense Forces.
Young Zvi trained to become an expert in three crucial areas of national and self defense: explosives, martial arts, and disguises.
Zvi spent 27 years in the Mossad. He was instrumental in the capture of Soviet spy Israel Bar who had worked his way up to the top of the Israeli government without raising suspicion.
In 1960, Zvi was part of the legendary mission to capture Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Argentina. Eichmann was a mastermind of the genocide of European Jewry and coined the term “the Final Solution.” He was responsible for forcing Jews into cattle cars which would take them to the gas chambers. On these horrifically overcrowded trains, Jews of all ages were forced to stand in their own filth for days, with barely enough air to breathe. When the trains reached the death camps, many Jews – especially babies and the elderly – were already dead. A mild-mannered bureaucrat, Eichmann inspired the term “banality of evil.” In 1945, Eichmann stated, “I will leap into my grave laughing because the feeling that I have five million human beings on my conscience is for me a source of extraordinary satisfaction.” After the war, he escaped Europe under a new identity and settled in Argentina.
Mossad got a tip in the late 1950’s that Eichmann was in Buenos Aires. Multiple teams of Israeli agents went to Argentina to track him down but failed. Finally they sent a crack team including Zvi Malkin. Through secret, extensive investigation they located Eichmann, who was living under the pseudonym Ricardo Klement and working at a Mercedes-Benz plant. Zvi learned that Eichmann returned home every evening at the same time. On May 11, as Eichmann was approaching his home, Zvi approached him and said politely, “Un momentito, senor” (A moment, sir). As soon as Eichmann turned, Zvi threw him to the ground. He was wearing gloves that day so he wouldn’t have to touch the Nazi. Immediately, Israeli agents jumped out of a parked car and they pushed Eichmann into the vehicle.
For ten days, Zvi questioned Eichmann. He later said, “The problem here is with a human being, not with a monster, not with an animal. The human being does things that even the monster does not do, because the human is more sophisticated. The problem is not how the monster did it but how the human being did it.”
Zvi had never forgotten his beloved sister Fruma or her three little children. He knew that Eichmann had a young son, born in Argentina, and that he was devoted to the boy. Zvi confronted the Nazi about the death of his own nephew during the Holocaust, saying “My sister’s boy, my favorite playmate, was just your son’s age. Also blond and blue-eyed, just like your son. And you killed him.”
Zvi recalled Eichmann’s chilling response. “Genuinely perplexed by the observation, he actually waited a moment to see if I would clarify it. ‘Yes,’ he said finally, ‘but he was Jewish, wasn’t he?’”
Nobody knew of Zvi’s role in the operation until the publication of his book “Eichmann In My Hands” in 1990. The only person he told was his mother, on her deathbed. His last words to her were, “Fruma is avenged.”
Zvi was promoted to Mossad’s Chief of Operations in the late 1960’s. He traveled extensively, advising law enforcement in countries around the world. He was a self-taught yet talented artist, and after he retired he moved to New York City with his wife Roni and devoted himself to his painting, for which he received international acclaim.
“Eichmann in My Hands,” was turned into a TV movie in 1996 starring Robert Duvall as Eichmann and Arliss Howard as Zvi Malkin. Two other movies have been made about the Eichmann operation, “”Operation Finale” and “The House on Garibaldi Street.”
Zvi Malkin died on March 1, 2005. He was remembered by Israeli media as “one of the greatest figures in the history of the Mossad” and “an extraordinary secret warrior.”
For avenging the blood of his brothers, and for his service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people, we honor Peter Zvi Malkin as this week’s Thursday Hero.
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