German Nazi doctor and war criminal Josef Mengele (1911 – 1979) standing at a train window his SS uniform Photo: GETTY
A former Israeli spy has described how an operation to capture the ‘Angel of Death’ Josef Mengele in Argentina had to be called off to prevent the escape of Adolf Eichmann.
By Tim Butcher
Israeli agents were taken off Mengele’s trail in 1960 so that agents of the foreign intelligence service Mossad could focus their efforts on detaining Adolf Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust.
With the Eichmann operation going smoothly allowing agents to smuggle the senior Nazi back to Israel where he was convicted of war crimes and executed, they planned to go back later for Mengele.
But by the time agents went back to look for for him Mengele had escaped from Argentina. He died, without ever coming to trial, in Brazil in 1979.
The failure to hold Mengele to account for many cruel wartime crimes such as performing human experiments on inmates at Auschwitz is an acutely sensitive issue for survivors of the Holocaust.
There has always been some ambiguity about how Mengele managed to escape from Argentina in 1960.
Rafi Eitan, Israel’s current pensions minister who ran the Eichmann operation for Mossad, has sought to shed new light on the affair.
“Mengele was living in Buenos Aires at the same time as Eichmann,” Mr Eitan said.
“We discovered Eichmann first and we later found Mengele.”
The Mossad agents in Argentina found Mengele’s address and took pictures that determined “beyond any doubt” the identity of the former Nazi.
Mr Eitan said he advised the top commanders of Mossad, however, that it would be a mistake to order snatch operations at the same time and that Eichmann should be the main focus.
It was then that the snatch operation for Mengele was postponed.
Mr Eitan said the publicity surrounding the Eichmann arrest alerted Mengele allowing him to escape.
But other sources have suggested Mengele left Argentina some weeks before the Eichmann arrest and the subsequent publicity, something that does not quite tally with Mr Eitan’s account.
The exact details of how he got away appear to be another mystery taken by Mengele, one of the most sinister figures of the Holocaust, to the grave.