Golden Globe winner Oscar Isaac (Show Me a Hero) portrays Israeli Mossad agent Peter Malkin, in the film “Operation Finale.” Throughout the movie, Malkin is haunted by flashbacks which take place in Lublin, Poland, involving a woman and her children who have been captured by the Nazis. The relationship Malkin had to the woman and the children, as well as what became of them, will be revealed in full by the film’s conclusion. For Malkin, like so many other Jews of the time period, bringing Nazi war criminals to justice, while helping to bring closure to the many, is also deeply personal.
On May 11, 1960, Malkin was working as a member of a team of Mossad agents responsible for apprehending wanted Nazi war criminal, Adolph Eichmann in Argentina, where he was living under the assumed name, Ricardo Klement. Capturing the former German-Austrian Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer, who was known as the architect of the diabolical, Final Solution, was not an easy task. The apprehension took meticulous planning, and along the way faced numerous hurdles that could have potentially derailed the plan to transport Eichmann to Israel to stand trial to answer for his crimes. Malkin, while not the team leader, was the person who physically restrained Eichmann, while he was walking to his house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires. The team had tracked Eichmann’s moves. They knew that he worked as a foreman at a Mercedes-Benz factory, and that every evening he took the same bus to return home to his wife Vera, played by Emmy winner Greta Scacchi (Rasputin), and his sons. They deemed this the perfect time to try to capture him. The cover of darkness, and lack of both foot traffic and other cars in the remote area made it the ideal time to attempt to carry out the mission.
Directed by Oscar nominee Chris Weitz (About a Boy), and written for the screen by Matthew Orton (Battle of Britain), the film “Operation Finale” tells the harrowing true story of the lengths the Israeli’s went to in order to capture a high priority war criminal, who had escaped the death sentences, and harsh prison terms given to his criminal cohorts at the Nuremberg trials. The trials were a series of military tribunals held by the Allied forces between November 20, 1945 and October 1, 1946.
The way the Israeli authorities were made aware of Eichmann’s whereabouts, and the fact that he was still alive (it had long been stated that he had killed himself to avoid capture), came from an unlikely occurrence. While at the movies, teenager, Sylvia Hermann (Haley Lu Richardson), meets Klaus (Joe Alwyn). What Sylvia doesn’t know is that Klaus is the son of Eichmann, a man who he states is his uncle. Conversely, Klaus, a person who has been brought up to despise Jews, is unaware that Sylvia is a Jewish woman, who was raised Catholic, in order to protect her from the Nazis during the war. As their relationship progresses, Klaus takes Sylvia to an unofficial Nazi gathering, where vehement, anti-Semitic rhetoric is spoken. Sylvia informs her father, Lothar, played by Emmy winner Peter Strauss (The Jericho Mile). A trap is set, and Sylvia invites Klaus over for dinner. While talking with Klaus, Lothar believes he has figured out, that the man who Klaus calls uncle, is really his father, Adolph Eichmann. He contacts Tel Aviv, where the Director of the Mossad, Isser Harel, portrayed by Lior Raz (Fauda), at first dismisses the need to follow what could be a case of mistaken identity, and take resources away from other pressing security needs. Mossad agent, Rafi Eitan (Nick Kroll), however, states that if the reports of Eichmann’s location are true, there is no way they could live with the regret of passing up the chance to bring such a heinous war criminal to justice.
BAFTA and Oscar winner, Sir Ben Kingsley (Gandhi), gives a compelling performance as the remorseless Eichmann, who states, time and again, that he did what he did out of love for his country and flag, and that he was merely following orders. Flashbacks show that Eichmann was more than just someone who arranged the transportation of Jews to death camps. He also stood by and watched as thousands were shot to death inside of pits. Eichmann’s only concern seemed to be covering his mouth so he wouldn’t have to breathe in the stench of death.
Once Eichmann was captured, and for many years prior to the Mossad getting a hold of him, he had been stripped of his power, and was for all intents and purposes a nobody. While waiting to be taken to Israel, Eichmann is blindfolded, instructed to only speak when spoken to, and chained to a bed in a hidden room in a safe house that serves as the base of operations for the agents. Dealing with Eichmann, who has been viewed by many, and rightly so, to be the embodiment of cold, calculating evil; a man devoid of moral conscious, was a necessary thing, in order to bring him to trial. In the film, Israeli airline El Al, refuses to transport Eichmann on its aircraft, unless he signs a statement indicating that he is willing to be flown to Israel to stand trial for his crimes. There might be some of you, asking the question, why not just forge his signature – who would know? The problem with that, and it is brought up during the movie, is that the agents didn’t have a document with Eichmann’s signature on it, so they had no way of knowing how to forge it, to make it look authentic if the signature had to stand up to scrutiny, which Eichmann’s legal team, most certainly would have insisted on.
Agents take turns guarding Eichmann, when he’s not being interrogated and asked for his signature. Every time the piece of paper is put in front of him, he refuses to sign, offering a variety of reasons. For example, he demands to be tried in a German or Polish court where, according to him, his alleged crimes took place. Tony award winning actor Michael Aronov (The Blacklist), plays interrogator, Zvi Aharoni, who does his best to persuade Eichmann to sign, but is getting nowhere. Peter Malkin takes a different tack with Eichmann, and begins to appeal to his ego. He also removes his blindfold, shaves his beard off, and offers him cigarettes, in an attempt to get him to cooperate.
What happened to Eichmann is well documented historical fact, but for those of you who are interested and might not know what became of him and the Mossad’s mission to bring him to justice, you might want to stop reading now. Once removed to Israel, Eichmann went on trial, protected by a bulletproof glass booth, and two armed guards who accompanied him everywhere he went. During the course of the trial which lasted 56 days, 112 witnesses, many of whom were Holocaust survivors, testified and hundreds of incriminating documents were entered into evidence. On December 15, 1961 Eichmann was found guilty on 15 counts of crimes against humanity, and sentenced to hang. On June 1, 1962, Eichmann was executed by hanging. His body was cremated and his ashes were poured into the Mediterranean Sea, in order to prevent Nazi sympathizers from setting up a memorial to his memory.