Peter Z. Malkin

Mossad agent who captured Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires
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The Independent Online

Zvi Malchin, better known as Peter Z. Malkin, was the Israeli Mossad agent who tracked down and captured Nazi Adolf Eichmann, architect of Hitler's "Final Solution", in Argentina in 1960.

Zvi Malchin (Peter Zvi Malkin), intelligence agent and artist: born Zolkiewka, Poland 27 May 1927; married Roni Thorner (one son, two daughters); died New York 1 March 2005.

Zvi Malchin, better known as Peter Z. Malkin, was the Israeli Mossad agent who tracked down and captured Nazi Adolf Eichmann, architect of Hitler's "Final Solution", in Argentina in 1960.

For that and many other operations which became known only decades later, "Zvika", as he was known to his friends, was hailed as the greatest secret agent in Israel's history.

Eichmann, considered responsible for the murder of six million Jews in Second World War extermination camps, had disappeared, then fled Germany in the post-war years. Like many of his fellow Nazi officers, he found refuge, even a welcome, in the military-oriented South America of the time. He lived quietly under the name Ricardo Klement, working in a Mercedes-Benz factory in Buenos Aires, but Malkin, who had lost his sister and many other members of his family in the Holocaust, finally tracked him down.

It is said that, when the Mossad chief in Israel asked his agent how he would capture the ex-Nazi officer, Malkin grabbed his boss and put a painful chokehold around his neck. He was a martial arts expert, as well as a master of explosives and disguises. Once in Buenos Aires, he posed as a painter while studying Eichmann's movements.

It was on the cold, wet night of 11 May 1960 that Malkin, backed by other Mossad men in a waiting car, walked up to Ricardo Klement and used the only two words of Spanish he had learnt: " Momentito, señor. One moment, sir." Then came the neck-lock, Eichmann was bundled into the car and taken to a safe house outside the Argentinian capital.

There he was held for 10 days, and given kosher food by his captors, before being drugged and spirited on to an El Al airliner to Jerusalem. To explain his condition, Malkin had obtained an Israeli passport for him, dressed him up in an El Al uniform and told Argentinian airport staff that he was an El Al steward who had had too much to drink and was being shipped home.

Eichmann was sentenced to death in Israel in December 1961, for crimes against the Jewish people, and hanged on 31 May 1962. Malkin's involvement emerged only a quarter of a century later.

Zvi Malchin was born in Zolkiewka, Poland, probably in 1927, but, after suffering anti-Semitism, his family took him to British-mandated Palestine in 1933. He was barely a teenager when recruited by Haganah, the Jewish underground movement fighting the British and Arabs, where he developed his skill with explosives.

After independence, he joined the Israeli Secret Service, later to become Mossad. Many of his operations, before he retired to the United States in 1976 and became a distinguished painter in Manhattan, remain veiled in typical Mossad secrecy. But he is known to have unmasked Israel Beer, an aide to the then Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, as a Soviet spy.

Malkin's 1990 memoirs Eichmann in My Hands were turned into a television film, The Man Who Captured Eichmann (1996), with Robert Duvall playing the Nazi and Arliss Howard as Malkin.

In his book The Argentina Journal (2002), Malkin movingly describes what it was like, in a room in Buenos Aires, to face the man held responsible for the murders of his own family members and millions of other Jews. "Who is that man lying on the iron bed? What does he signify to me?" he asked himself.

Malkin found himself surprised that Eichmann "did not look like a monster" and wrote that he had forced himself to face his captor, and to talk to him. "Long an accomplished agent, I was at last becoming a human being."

He later said:

a monster can be excused for his behaviour . . . The problem is not how a monster could do it, but how a human being did it.

Phil Davison