Thursday, April 8, 2021

Mission implausible: The story of the police unit that protected Eichmann - Tal Ariel Amir


​ by Tal Ariel Amir

They stood guard over Adolf Eichmann 24 hours a day, witnessed his apathy after hearing the testimonies of survivors, and saw him right up to his execution. Sixty years after the trial, a new book by Israel Police unveils the "Iyar Unit" tasked with safeguarding the most notorious Nazi criminal in history.


Mission implausible: The story of the police unit that protected Eichmann
Adolf Eichmann stands trial in Jerusalem, 1961 | Archives: Getty Images

"Adolf Eichmann formed himself a method for understanding people in order to exploit them for his own purposes. People are not human beings in his eyes, but figures, scarecrows, nothing but statistics on the stage of his life. Other people are used only for him to satisfy his own demands. His world is worthless of reality because it reflects his passions, needs, and demands. He has strong aggressive impulses and a lust for power. Within the framework of the Nazi Party and the SS, he gained a great deal of self-confidence, and thus found a framework in which aggression has a clear positive value," psychiatrist Dr. Shlomo Kulcsar worte in an expert opinion brief to the Supreme Court on June 11, 1961, after seven sessions with Eichmann, a major Holocaust perpetrator, whom Kulcsar met in his cell in an Israeli jail.

The Eichmann trial, which began on April 11 1961, changed immensely how the Israeli public dealt with the Holocaust. At the time there were hundreds of thousands of survivors in the country, who were suppressing memories and trauma. The discussions revealed wounds that didn't heal, the horrors, the physical and emotional hell they went through.

The personal stories of the survivors overshadowed the work of the police in the Eichmann affair. On the one hand there were the Bureau 06 investigators, who came across thousands of documents proving his guilt. On the other hand, was the "Iyar Unit", which protected the archvillain until the day he was hanged, on May 31, 1962.

The story of the Iyar Unit remained untold, even though its officers were close to Eichmann. They sat with him in the holding cell while he ate, when he slept, when he showered and when he wrote his memoirs. Some were by his side even when he underwent the psychiatric diagnosis, and heard the answers that showed his psychopathic nature and lies.

Adolf Eichmann led from his jail cell to the court, 1961 (Israel Police Archives)

Throughout the period, the police documented Eichmann, and in the photos taken, the archvillain is seen cleaning the toilets in his cell, hanging laundry, brushing his teeth, being examined by a doctor or sitting on the iron bed in the cell, wearing slippers.

The documentation also appears in a new book slated to be released in a few weeks. Operation IyarThe Activities of the Israel Police in the Eichmann Affair is, in fact, a second in-depth study by the police, after the first study into the work of Bureau 06, was published last year.

Both studies were written by Inspector Yossi Hemi, a historian and head of the Israel Police Heritage Center. For many months, Hemi searched the police archives and state archives and retrieved documents, correspondences, drawings and photographs documenting the behind-the-scenes of the trial, including the tight security arrangements, along with Eichmann's daily routine and interaction with his investigators.

"The current study presents the story of the Israel Police in the Eichmann case in all its aspects," says Hemi. "From the Iyar Unit, to carrying out the sentencing, together with the Prison Service. The role of the police went far beyond its area of responsibility, but few people know and appreciate what it did. I hope the two studies will reveal one of the most significant stories in the country's history and the history of the police in particular."

On May 23, 1960, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion took to the Knesset podium in one of the most historic speeches in Israel. He announced that Adolf Eichmann, the architect of the Final Solution – the Nazi plan for the Jewish genocide –  had been captured in Argentina and brought to Israel two days earlier in a Mossad operation. Upon landing in Israel, Eichmann was taken into custody at the Israel Security Agency base in Jaffa. Ben-Gurion then tasked the Israel Police with his interrogation and security.

One of the first decisions of the then-Police Commissioner Yosef Nachmias was to turn the Jalama camp near Haifa (now the Kishon Prison) into a detention center intended for Eichmann alone. The place was named "Iyar Base", after the Hebrew month in which he was captured, and Commander Shaul Rosolio (later Israel's fifth police commissioner) was appointed commander of the base. He had only 48 hours to prepare for the transfer of Eichmann from the GSS, on May 26.


For Eichmann's security, dozens of police officers were recruited into Iyar, the special unit set up for the purpose of the operation. They all underwent a personal interview, in order to rule out a family connection to Holocaust survivors, which could have made it difficult for them to fulfill their role or endanger his life.

"I was asked if I knew what happened to the Jews during the war, if my parents suffered in the Holocaust, and if any of my relatives were in a concentration camp," says Sergeant Amram Lusky, who was interviewed before joining the unit, without knowing what it was all about. "Because of my last name, they thought I came from Europe. When I said I was a native of Morocco, they told me, 'Stay.'

"A big truck brought us to a security facility in Jaffa. We spent the whole night guessing, what was going on here. The next day, May 25, at noon, we arrived in Jalama. We found the base in a frenzy. They were evacuating all the detainees, knocking down walls, whitewashing other walls, changing the cell system and building a secure cell -- it was still not clear for whom."

At the same time, the police readied for the transfer of Eichmann from Jaffa. Leading the secure convoy was Commander Yehuda Guy, head of the Traffic and Patrol Branch. In a document he sent to the head of the Police Organization Division, Major General Aharon Sela, Guy outlines the complex operation:

"On May 25, 1960, I met with H. from the GSS. The purpose of the meeting was to determine the arrangements for receiving the detainee from them and transferring him to the Iyar Base. At this meeting, he also gave me details about the detainee, the fact that he is short-sighted, and that his glasses were broken during the journey from his place of arrest. It was decided to transfer the detainee on the evening of May 26, 1960, under the escort of three secure vehicles and manned by officers, who until the mission began knew nothing about the purpose of the trip.

"At 9:50 p.m., I left in car number 2, and met with H. in the yard of the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Abu Kabir. Together we drove to the GSS facility where the detainee was being held. I entered the detainee's cell and informed him that I had to move him to his new detention place. Even though I was in uniform, the detainee trembled all over. He barely calmed down, even after I reiterated that I was a police officer and that he had nothing to fear.

"Bound to the two officers of the Central Unit, I put the detainee in the back seat of my car, with H. driving after me, accompanied by security. Meanwhile, at 21:54, car number 1 and rearguard car number 3 left for the Jerusalem road, waiting about 200 meters from the entrance gate to Mikveh Israel. When I got in between the two aforementioned cars, we left for the Iyar Base, while H. returned to Tel Aviv. On the way out of Wadi Milk, I blindfolded the detainee, who again showed signs of fear. The commander of the Iyar Base received the detainee from us."

Plans for sepcial security around Eichmann's jail cell (Israel Police Archives)

Around midnight, Eichmann was put in cell number 1, built especially for him, about 20 meters in size. A document sent to Rosolio from the head of the Police Organization Branch, classified as confidential, detailed the conditions required in the cell: "The detainee's cell will have a table and chair placed in it. Writing paper will be on the table. The sentry next to the detainee will have a pencil in his hands, and it will be handed over to the detainee for writing. Please plan a stroll for the detainee in the fenced yard outside the detainee's cell. A stroll to this yard will be made only after an order of the commander of Bureau 06.

"The interrogation room will be equipped with a table and two chairs, a recording device and a telephone. The door of the room will be open during the interrogation. The detainee will be able to smoke during the interrogation, as much as he wants, with the interrogator's consent."

Under constant watch

Guarding Eichmann was challenging. The fear was that he would try to escape, commit suicide in his cell or that someone would try to harm him. This is the reason why Force A numbered 37 policemen, who were near him 24 hours a day and were not armed. The detention cell and its surroundings were declared a sterile area. Only Border Police officers, who carried out the perimeter security, carried weapons.

Throughout the day, Eichmann stayed with a squad of four sentries. One sat across from him in the cell; The second, who carried the keys to the cell, stood outside the door and watched Eichmann and the policeman inside; The third was at a door in the hallway, and his job was to activate a field telephone and an alarm if needed; and the fourth patrolled near the main gates of the compound.

Eichmann was given a dark khaki prisoner uniform. The light in his room was on non-stop, even at night, and the police did not take their eyes off him even when he was sleeping, showering or going to the bathroom. They were forbidden to start a conversation with him. When they brought him food, he thanked them in German with a "Danke schön." When instructed to do something, he replied with the German word Jawohl, meaning "yes, sir," as commanders in the Nazi army were answered.

In an internal document written by Commander David Ofer, who was appointed camp commander two months later, he reviews Eichmann's confinement conditions and daily routine.

"The detainee woke up between 5:30-6:00 in the morning. After waking up, he took a shower, then got dressed. The detainee was given clothes according to the weather, meaning light clothes in the summer, and in the winter warm underwear, woolen shirts, trousers, a windbreaker, and padded slippers. All this to keep him in good health ahead of the trial. "

When he shaved, he was provided an electric shaver, which was taken immediately after he finished. Once every two days, he washed his clothes and cleaned his cell and toilet.

At 6:45 a.m., breakfast was served to Eichmann by the shift officer, who was present until the end of the meal. Fearing poisoning, Eichmann ate from the policemen's food rations. In the morning he was given a dairy meal, which included two slices of bread, cheese, a hard-boiled egg, vegetable, and fruit. Afterward, he went for a half-hour walk in the courtyard, after which he was taken for questioning in the next room. This lasted between three and four hours. He sometimes met with his German defense attorney, Adv. Robert Servatius, who was hired by his family. Servatius became famous after defending Nazis at the Nuremberg trials.

At 12:30 Eichmann had lunch, which included a meat dish and a side of potatoes or rice. After that he stayed in his cell, read books in German and wrote a personal diary. At 17:30 he was provided with a dairy dinner, and around 9 p.m. he went to bed.

Fearing poisoning, Eichmann ate from the policemen's food rations (Israel Police Archives)

Officer Amram Lusky, who was a member of Force A, said: "When he eats, you sit next to him and watch. You do not give him a chance to do anything. Eichmann especially liked mayonnaise. On Passover, he asked, 'What is this thing that you give me to eat?' We told him these are matzah. He looked and ate."

Force A was tasked with ensuring that Eichmann underwent a daily health check by two regular doctors who served in the police, Dr. Zvi Wolstein and Dr. Brandstetter. Brandstetter examined Eichmann on August 3, 1960, and found that his condition was normal, except for slightly high blood pressure. "The prisoner is in good nutrition and general health," he wrote. "He's definitely capable of passing the tests that are still expected of him."

In January 1961, Bureau 06 received disconcerting information from Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. The commander of the bureau, Avraham Zeliger, sent a letter to the police commissioner and the Mossad, in which he wrote: "Klaus, Eichmann's son, was planning to kidnap a Jewish figure for an exchange." Klaus was one of Eichmann's four sons; He and his two brothers, Horst and Dieter, admired their father and his work. The younger brother, Ricardo, renounced his father's actions and openly condemned them.

Between January and March 1961, Eichmann underwent a comprehensive psychiatric diagnosis in his cell by Dr. Shlomo Kulcsar, who was the director of the psychiatric ward at Tel Hashomer Hospital. In an opinion sent to Bureau 06, the psychiatrist states that he met with Eichmann seven times, with a clinical psychologist joining him in some of the sessions. Among other things, Dr. Kulcsar writes about his impression of Eichmann's attitude toward his family.

"During the clinical examination, the defendant barely showed any emotional reactions. When we talked repeatedly about his family and children, we did not see any reaction in him. Only twice did we see a hint of emotion, as we delved into sexual issues and as he recounted his experiences towards the end of the war and the killing of Germans in the bombings. Here he became bitter, despairing and depressed, and the grimacing in his face increased."

Supreme Court Justices Benjamin Halevi, Moshe Landoi and Yitzhak Raveh, who presided 
over the Eichmann trial (GPO Archives)

Eichmann told his life story to the psychiatrist. "According to his description, his father was the manager of a tram company in Linz, Austria, and he claimed he was a serious and meticulous man, who demanded order and did not tolerate any negligence. He watched the children closely, from their personal hygiene to the order in their notebooks. He forbade the children to talk at the table, and a slap in the face was easily released from his hands. The defendant was a bad student and skipped school frequently, and just barely 'slipped' from one class year to the next.

"During the conversations, he mentioned that while he was a high-ranking SS officer, a distant relative, a Jew, was once brought to him asking for help. He even kissed her and saved her, justifying it as the influence of his father's education, who compelled him to respect his relatives.

"As opposed to the memories about his father, the defendant does not give details about the mother. His only ancient memory of her is that one evening when he jumped on her back as she made his bed, and yelled 'Jump, girl.' In response, she slapped him. The mother died of tuberculosis. When asked what he felt after her death, he replied: 'Deep grief and shock,' without any emotion felt in words."

The psychiatrist added that Eichmann had five younger brothers, and after the mother's death his father remarried and gave him two more brothers.

In the conversations, Dr. Kulcsar asked Eichmann about his attitude toward Jews. "In the past, the defendant had no idea what a Jew was, and he visited the home of a Jewish boy several times, and was even invited to visit again. His mother had Jewish relatives, and the defendant even had a brief flirtation with a Jewish girl, who later married one of his friends."

Later, the psychiatrist mentions a dialogue between him and Eichmann:

"Have you ever felt remorse?"

Eichmann: "Yes. When I skipped school."

But the psychiatrist was talking about the extermination of the Jews. He went on to ask: "Did you at least feel responsible for your actions?"

Eichmann: "I was one of 30 officials in the field. To disobey orders meant to oppose society's laws. I am a person who lives solely in his position, no more."

The psychiatrist writes in his opinion: "During his life, he felt afraid, without knowing why. He could not go to places where he had to meet strangers, he had to know in advance who would be present. In such cases, his palms would sweat.

"In the party and the SS he gained self-confidence. It gave him a sense of belonging. The Reich was an ideal, about helping to establish a land for future German generations ... he canceled his first engagement for political reasons because his fiancée called the marching SS soldiers 'idiots.'"

One of the most shocking quotes in the report is from a test conducted by Dr. Kulcsar on Eichmann, called the "Szondi test" - an assessment of personality traits, based on the subject's response to images of mentally disturbed criminals. The psychiatrist sent the results to the founder of the method, Dr. Léopold Szondi, who lived in Switzerland and did not know who the subject was.

"Dr. Szondi told us he wanted to return the report because he normally does not accept tests under these conditions," Kulcsar writes. "But when he looked at the report anyway, he saw that it was a special case, unlike any he had ever seen before in the 6,000 tests he had performed in 24 years. According to his conclusion, the subject is a criminal with an insatiable lust for murder. He is able to carry out his murderous impulses out of lust for power and while transcending the boundaries of reality. "

Eichmann paces ahead of his trial in the Ramle Prison yard, April 1, 1961 (GPO via Getty Images/John Milli/Archives)

Ben-Gurion decided that the hearings in the Eichmann trial would take place at Beit Ha'am in Jerusalem (today the Gerard Bachar Center), which was then under construction and converted into a court. The main hall was pre-designed for about 800 seats, and its relatively secluded location facilitated security.

In order to reduce the risk involved in transferring Eichmann to daily hearings, the police decided that he would stay in a detention cell to be built in Beit Ha'am. The construction work was entrusted to a police unit specially formulated for this purpose, and was called the "Judicial Administration." Major General Yekutiel Keren was appointed commander of the unit, and Rosolio was appointed his deputy. In an order issued by Rosolio, he detailed Eichmann's conditions in Beit Ha'am:

"Clothing: During incarceration – clothing that will be provided to him by the warehouse. During the hearings – his private suite, which will be kept outside the cell and handed to him before the hearings begin and will be taken from him after they are over.

"Bathing: The defendant will be allowed a hot shower once a day, handwashing before each meal. The soap, towel, toothpaste and brush will be placed near the bathing bowl. Before bathing, they will be handed to him, and immediately after will be taken from him.

"Shaving: The defendant will shave with a rechargeable electric shaver, without an electrical connection. He will be allowed to shave before bathing. The device battery must be recharged every day. The device must be taken when shaving is completed. While shaving, bathing, and toileting, observation will continue non-stop.

"Food: The defendant will receive his food from the rations intended for the members of the force. He will receive three meals a day during the meal times of the unit members. His meals will be put on his plate after being taken from the general quantity, by the shift officer, and brought to him personally by the same officer. He will receive only a spoon, made of metal or plastic. As soon as the food is finished, the dishes will be taken from him. Drinking water will be provided to him on request.

"Medical care: The defendant will be examined daily by a doctor. The test results will be recorded in a medical review book placed next to the shift officer. No medication will be given to the defendant without the doctor's instruction, and in the presence of the shift officer.

"Smoking: The defendant is allowed to smoke eight cigarettes a day. They should be given after meals and at his request.

"Reading: The defendant will be provided with books. He will be provided with eyeglasses, which will be taken from him after the reading.

"Special requests: Any request from the defendant will be directed to the shift officer. If necessary, it will be forwarded to the unit commander for approval.

"Cleaning: The defendant will clean his room and toilet himself. For this purpose, he will be provided with a bucket, rag, and a stick. Upon completion of the cleaning, they will be taken from him.

"Laundry: The defendant will wash his own clothes. He will be provided with soap for this purpose and a place to hang the laundry to dry.

"Furniture: The defendant will be provided with a bed without sharp elements, a mattress, and blankets as needed. A table and a small chair.

"Defendant's behavior: Do not enter into any conversation with him. The answers must be formal and brief."

On the night of April 4-5, 1961, Eichmann was transferred to Beit Ha'am. In the police car sitting next to him was policeman Amram Lusky and the shift commander of Force A, the late Inspector David Franco. "Eichmann was handcuffed to Franco on one side, and to me on the other," says Lusky. "In front sat the Major Generals, Yaakov Kenner and Amos Ben-Gurion, the prime minister's son. The instructions we received were simple: if something happens along the way, we are the first to cover Eichmann and shield him."

Eichmann's cell was located on the second floor, just above the courtroom. It had no yard, and the two barred windows faced an inner corridor. Every morning he was brought from there to the discussions, at around 8:30 p.m. Israel Nachmias, the policeman who guarded Eichmann in both the glass cell in the courtroom and the detention cell, says that the people who interviewed him did not know that despite his last name, his grandparents lived in Greece and were killed in Auschwitz.

"When Eichmann was in the cell, he read a lot of books and the minutes of the trial, which he put on the table in an orderly fashion. I remember one day, a policeman opened the window and the papers scattered. Eichmann was very angry."

In contrast, after the disturbing testimony of Ka-Tsetnik, on June 7, 1961, Eichmann was taken back to his cell. He sat down peacefully at the desk. "I entered it and was surprised," Franco told his family. "I saw the detainee busy with an optimistic drawing of flowers and butterflies. I got upset and asked how he dared to draw such a painting after testimony like that. Eichmann replied, 'I was just following orders.'"

The rope used in Eichmann's execution on May 31, 1962 (Israel Prison Service Archives)

On August 8, 1961, after four months of shocking testimony, the first phase of the trial ended. Eichmann was returned to the Iyar Base. The verdict, which was given over three days, was read on December 11, and the sentencing was read on December 15. Eichmann was sentenced to death.

After the hearing, he was returned to his cell at Beit Ha'am. "He was calm and sat down to read a book about whales," Lusky described.

Eichmann appealed the conviction, but his appeal was rejected. He then became a prisoner and was transferred to the Prison Service and housed in an isolated wing of Ramla Prison. On May 29, 1962, he asked President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi for a pardon, and two days later the president announced that the request had been denied.

From that moment on, the Prison Service declared the beginning of "Operation X" - preparing for the execution scheduled for June 1, just after midnight. The gallows had been erected already in February, next to Eichmann's cell. The crematorium, which was intended for the cremation of his body, was placed beyond the fence, on the site of what is now the Neve Tirza Prison.

In the evening, the guards broke the wall that separated him from the hanging room. Prison guard Avraham Merhavi led Eichmann, dressed in brown Prison Service clothes and wearing sandals with socks, to the gallows. Prison Service Commissioner Warden Avraham Nir was present; Bureau 06 Investigator, Chief Superintendent Mickey Goldman; Inspector David Franco; a physician, four journalists and four guards. The guards tied Eichmann's hands and feet. He refused to have his eyes covered.

"When the head of the Organization Branch announced that I would be one of the two police witnesses to be present at his execution, I felt satisfied," Goldman said. "Eichmann was put in the gallows cell, and on the right was a screen. We knew that behind him were two Prison Service officers; that there were two buttons there, and that when the order was given, they would press them.

"I was standing a meter from Eichmann. He was somewhat fuzzy. Before that he drank half a bottle of wine. When he stood under the gallows, he tried to hold on. Those who knew him knew that when he got upset - for example, when he had difficulty during the investigation answering something incriminating - his left little finger trembled. I looked at the little finger, and it was trembling.

"When he saw the journalists pulling out notebooks, Eichmann spoke. He said: 'Long live Germany, long live Argentina, long live Austria, these are the three countries I owe a lot to. In a while, we will all meet, as mortals do. I did what I was told. I followed orders.'

"I looked at him and felt nothing. There is no human revenge for what they did to us. Only God can take revenge. So one person was hanged. What is that compared to the rest, compared to my ten-year-old sister, who was murdered in Belzec with my parents.

"When the 'Act' command was given, Prison Service personnel pressed the buttons."

Three minutes later, the doctor set the time of death: 11:58 p.m. Eichmann was left hanging for about an hour. At 1 a.m. on June 1, his body was taken down from the rope by six guards, wrapped in a sheet and blanket, and placed on a wheelbarrow. From there it was transported to the crematorium.

Chief Superintendent Mickey Goldman attended the cremation. "It was a black, foggy night," he said. "We walked along the lights near the fence towards the stove, where Eichmann's body would be brought. I looked at the lights and said to myself: 'Like in Auschwitz.' But this time it's not my Auschwitz, it's his Auschwitz.

"Then, they took out the ashes and put them in a tin. I was amazed to see how little ash remained from the human body. I remembered the mountains of ash in Auschwitz, and only then did I realize how many people were burned there.

"With this tin, containing Eichmann's ashes, I went to the port of Jaffa, with the Prison Service commissioner. We boarded the police ship, and it set off. When we reached six miles outside the borders of Israel, the commissioner opened the urn, and together with him we poured the ashes into the sea waves. I instinctively said at that moment: 'So may perish all your enemies, Israel.' Someone next to me said 'Amen'. From the wind some of the ashes entered my eyes. One of those present said that Eichmann continues to persecute the Jews even after his death and laughs."


Tal Ariel Amir


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