Eichmann’s final barb: ‘I hope that all of you will follow me’

Rafi Eitan, the Israeli intelligence officer who seized him in Argentina, tells TV documentary of Nazi war criminal’s last mumbled words before he was hanged

Mitch Ginsburg is the former Times of Israel military correspondent.

This 1961 file photo shows Adolf Eichmann standing in his glass cage in the Jerusalem courtroom where he was tried and convicted of war crimes committed during World War II. (AP Photo,b/w file)
This 1961 file photo shows Adolf Eichmann standing in his glass cage in the Jerusalem courtroom where he was tried and convicted of war crimes committed during World War II. (AP Photo,b/w file)

Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann’s last words, before he was hanged by Israel for war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes against the Jewish people, were “I hope that all of you will follow me,” the Israeli intelligence officer who accompanied him to the gallows said.

Rafi Eitan, who had commanded the operation to capture Eichmann in Argentina in 1960, told an Israeli TV documentary broadcast on Monday night that he was standing behind Eichmann at the gallows, at Ramle jail in 1962. “I accompanied him to the hanging. I saw him from the back. I did not speak with him at that moment,” Eitan said.

Did Ecihmann say anything? the interviewer asked. “What he said was, ‘I hope that all of you will follow me’,” said Eitan.

That was what he mumbled before he was hanged? the interviewer asked. “Correct,” said Eitan.

Adolf Eichmann, on trial in 1961 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Adolf Eichmann, on trial in 1961 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Eichmann’s last words have generally been reported as having been: “Long live Germany. Long live Argentina. Long live Austria. These are the three countries with which I have been most connected and which I will not forget. I greet my wife, my family and my friends. I am ready. We’ll meet again soon, as is the fate of all men. I die believing in God.”

Eitan, speaking on the Uvda investigative news program on Israel’s Channel 2, described the task of capturing Eichmann in Argentina, operationally speaking, as “one of the easiest missions we did.”

He described the physical maneuver performed on Eichmann to twist him quickly into the back seat of the car in which he was taken to a Mossad safe house after being captured in Buenos Aires, and recalled the Nazi’s head resting on his knees in the silent car.

In the safe house, they stripped him naked, blinded his eyes, and checked to make sure he was not carrying poison on his body or in his mouth.

The Shin Bet interrogations officer assigned to the team, Zvi Aharoni, asked Eichmann once for his name, Eitan recalled, and was told Otto Henninger. He asked a second time and was told Ricardo Klement. The native German speaker then asked Eichmann for his SS number and was given the precise ID number. Then, Eitan said, Aharoni asked for his name again and he said, Adlolf Eichmann. “Immediately afterward he says, ‘May I have a glass of red wine,'” Eitan recalled.

Charged with washing and feeding Eichmann, Eitan said he found himself curious about the man’s capabilities and whether or not he was superior to him. “I found that I was his better,” Eitan said, noting that Eichmann was loyal to his new masters, adhering to all of the Israelis’ orders. “That would not have happened to me. If I was in his situation, that would not have happened to me.”

Former Mossad official and government minister Rafi Eitan (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Former Mossad official and government minister Rafi Eitan (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

The TV program provided a look into the interior world of Eitan, formerly one of Israel’s top spy masters — an unrepentant man who deemed regret a “non-practical word” for which he, even at age 88, has no use.

Eitan, in a blue dress shirt and black Adidas sneakers, spoke of the first time he was asked to take a life for his country, in the mid-1940s. His officer chose him and another man to lay an ambush for the German – often pro-Nazi – Templers, who remained in pre-state Israel and to kill some of them in order to deter their co-religionists from returning to Palestine after the Second World War. Eitan, then 19, found the appropriate spot, stopped the carriage near the Jezreel Valley town of Alonei Abba, and quickly and randomly shot two men.

He said he remembered their faces well but neither now nor then felt any need to learn their names. “We did not feel any feeling of guilt,” he said. “On the contrary, we felt we were doing our duty as sons of the Jewish People.”

Eitan also revealed that he turned his back on US spy-for-Israel Jonathan Pollard, giving the order to bar Pollard from the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC in 1985 as Pollard attempted to enter and gain asylum. For all intents and purposes, he further divulged that former prime minister Shimon Peres and defense minister Yitzhak Rabin were well aware of the fact that Israel was running an agent within the US armed forces.

Asked whether the two Israeli leaders were aware of the spy’s actions prior to his capture, he said, after some deliberation, “of course.”

Pollard, a civilian intelligence analyst for the US Navy, passed reams of classified material to Israel from the summer of 1984 until November 1985. He has been serving a life sentence in US federal prison since 1987 and will be eligible for parole in November 2015.

Described by his wife Miriam as “destructively emotionally detached,” Eitan said in the TV interview that he felt no regret at the way the Pollard affair played out. Although it was he who gave the order “to throw him out” of the Israeli embassy on November 21, 1985, he said that he made his decision “in accordance with the interests of the state of Israel” and that anyone “who is in a role such as mine and decides otherwise, is mistaken.”

He further alleged that Pollard had an escape plan that he failed to execute – a suspect claim, since the American US Navy analyst was under tight surveillance – and that “the moment he decided to come to the embassy as he decided to come, he decided on his own that he was going to prison.”

That night he went to Peres and Rabin and told them that Pollard had been arrested.

Pressed to express regret or to admit to a guilty conscience, Eitan told the interviewer Ben Shani, “look for that on other people. I’m built differently.”

Pollard was recruited by an up-and-coming Israel Air Force officer, Col. Aviem Sella, and run by Eitan.

Jonathan Pollard (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Jonathan Pollard (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

He described the crucial moment when he learned that Pollard had fled to the embassy, bringing his FBI tail to the gate.

A call from the embassy’s encoded phone explained the predicament to Eitan. “What do you say to yourself then?” the interviewer asked Eitan.

“I don’t say anything [to myself],” he recalled. “I said right away: throw him out.”

According to the documentary, Eitan knew about Pollard’s impending arrest three days before it occurred, and informed the prime minister and defense minister that Pollard would soon be detained.

Peres, a 2012 recipient of the Medal of Freedom, the US’s highest civic award, is portrayed in Michael Bar-Zohar’s authorized biography as being “stricken by shock” upon Pollard’s capture, leaving the reader uncertain as to whether the cause for surprise was the capture or the espionage.

Visibly bemused, Eitan recalled in the TV interview that, “I said in advance, I take all of the responsibility on me. I gave the order. Only I gave the order. No one authorized me.”

That arrangement, he added, “solved the problem for the people of Israel.”

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