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“The Banality of Evil”: The Take-Down of Holocaust Mastermind Adolf Eichmann

Secret agent Peter Malkin opens up about the capture that inspired the film Operation Finale.


In 1963, Nazi SS lieutenant colonel Adolf Eichmann became the poster child of the phrase “the banality of evil.” Coined by New Yorker journalist Hannah Arendt, it was a reference to the disturbing contrast between Eichmann’s outward normalcy and the heinousness of his war crimes. Despite playing a major role in the Holocaust, he felt no personal responsibility for the millions of lost Jewish lives. In his mind, he’d simply ‘done his duty’ on behalf of the Third Reich.

After joining the SS in 1932—and a brief, unsuccessful stint in its Austrian branch—Adolf Eichmann returned to his birthplace so he could more freely associate with the Nazi Party. He ascended their ranks throughout the decade, earning a reputation as a self-taught expert on Jewish culture. Come World War II, he was masterminding the deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps—most notably, Auschwitz. Yet, as Hannah Arendt later wrote, Eichmann expressed no guilt for killing millions of innocents. Instead, he felt the satisfaction of a job well done, and he once stated that he could “leap laughing into the grave.”

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  • In Operation Finale, Adolf Eichmann (left) is played by Ben Kingsley, and Peter Malkin (right) is played by Oscar Isaac.

    Photo Credit: Alchetron

Eichmann certainly wasn’t laughing at the end of the war. He managed to escape imprisonment by fleeing to Austria and Argentina, but his false identities weren’t enough to throw Israeli intelligence agents—known as the Mossad—off his trail. In 1960, the years-long manhunt came to a legendary end when the Mossad received word of an Eichmann sighting in Buenos Aires.

In the spring of that year, 33-year-old Peter Malkin found himself at the head of Eichmann’s take-down. It wasn’t just an important, high-stakes mission, but a personal one—some of Malkin’s own relatives had perished in the devastation of Eichmann’s making. On May 11, 1960, Malkin located, followed, and successfully abducted his target before taking him back to Israel for his trial. It was the highlight of Malkin’s already-impressive career, led to Eichmann’s 1962 hanging, and recently inspired the film Operation Finale—starring Ben Kingsley and Oscar Isaac.

For a detailed, first-hand account of the incident, there’s no better resource than the book Eichmann in My Hands. Sworn to secrecy for decades, it’s the first time Malkin speaks openly about the mission—revealing new details about himself and the fateful day he brought “the banality of evil” to justice. In the following excerpt, Malkin describes the frantic planning process after he and his closest associate, Uzi, learned Eichmann was spotted in Argentina.

Click here for an excerpt of Eichmann in My Hands, and then download the book.

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Featured still from "Operation Finale" (2018), via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer