The incredible details of the cat-and-mouse game between Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann and those who spent years chasing him seem like they could be ripped from the pages of a Hollywood script. The decades-long hunt for Eichmann is among the most infamous fugitive pursuits in history. Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust, managed to evade capture until 1960, when Israeli agents seized him in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Eichmann was quickly smuggled out of the country -- unbeknownst to Argentine authorities.
Eichmann's subsequent trial, broadcast all over the world, provided a much-needed catharsis for Holocaust survivors, WWII veterans, and war-weary citizens alike.
Eichmann Escaped After The War, But Not Many People Knew What He Looked Liked
Adolf Eichmann secured his legacy as a vital component of the Nazi Party's "Final Solution" by being a ruthless bureaucrat and dedicated anti-Semite who did everything he could to impress his Fuhrer by coordinating the transport of Jewish people to concentration camps. When WWII ended in defeat for Hilter, Eichmann found himself in an American detention camp in Germany. At that point, though, Eichmann had already implemented his escape plan by masquerading as a low-level German soldier named Otto Eckmann. He spent a few months in the POW camp as Eckmann before slipping out and fleeing to an isolated farmhouse.
While other Holocaust organizers were being tried for human rights violations and war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials, Eichmann was hiding out and plotting his next move. Eichmann had a major advantage: few people outside the Nazi Party knew what he actually looked like. This made it possible for Eichmann to venture into Northern Germany's British occupation zone, where he assumed yet another identity: Otto Henninger. Eichmann remained on German soil for a few years, evading detection by creating a series of false documents that led authorities to believe he'd fled to the Middle East.
His Wife Attempted To Falsify His Death
While Eichmann was in Northern Germany, a man in Prague filed a police report claiming he'd seen Eichmann dispatched with a firearm there. The judge who almost signed Eichmann's death notice reversed his decision when he discovered the identity of the witness: Karl Liebel, the brother-in-law of Eichmann's wife Vera.
Vera, who was part of Eichmann's scheme, remained loyal to her husband after the war. Ultimately, Vera's work toward declaring her husband deceased in hopes the search for him would end failed. Eichmann knew he couldn't stay in one place too long if he wanted to maintain his freedom.
Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal Tried To Set A Trap For Him
It was Jewish Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal who cried foul when news of Eichmann's purported demise in Prague spread around. Wiesenthal, who'd endured stints in the Ostbahn and Mauthausen concentration camps, signed up to help Allied forces gather war crime evidence for trials. 89 members of Wiesenthal's family lost their lives thanks to Eichmann and his cohorts, including Wiesenthal's mother.
Wiesenthal did his own research, and he proved to the judge in Prague it was Karl Liebel, Vera Eichmann's brother-in-law, who'd given witness testimony that Eichmann was deceased. Wiesenthal knew Nazi war criminals evading prosecution often ended up slain under questionable circumstances when in reality they'd fled to other countries and assumed new identities.
"My determination became the more pronounced, the more I learned how Jews had been abused," Wiesenthal later wrote about his desire to bring Eichmann and other Nazis to justice. Hopeful the revelation about Karl Liebel would be the key to ensnaring Eichmann, Wiesenthal eventually got word that Eichmann was still in Germany. He worked with the Hungarian government to request the United States retrieve Eichmann from Germany and extradite him to Hungary, where he could stand trial.
The Americans sat on the request for four years, ultimately denying it in 1951 because no "definite address" or details about Eichmann's crimes were provided. Wiesenthal's trap didn't work.
Eichmann Was Able To Get A One Way Trip To Argentina
Meanwhile, Eichmann found a coterie of post-war Nazi loyalists who were more than willing to help him remain under the radar. Eichmann traveled all over post-war Europe, relying on his many fake identities to get around. He traversed an established escape route for Nazis like him, one maintained by helpers, border guards, nonprofit organizations, religious leaders, and government officials.
Using the name Ricardo Klement, Eichmann traveled from Genoa, Italy, to his new home in 1950: Buenos Aires, Argentina. Aided by the Red Cross, high-ranking Vatican officials and an SS officer turned human smuggler named Horst Carlos Fuldner, Eichmann earned Argentine leader Juan Peron's blessing to resettle in his country.