Buenos Aires, Argentina
The special El Al flight, a turboprop Bristol Britannia carrying the Israeli delegation, landed in Buenos Aires just before 6pm on May 19. The presence of three unfamiliar men in El Al uniforms who did not even pretend to be carrying out any flight duties tipped off most of the crew that something was afoot.
As a prisoner, Eichmann had been more than obedient. "He behaved like a scared, submissive slave whose one aim was to please his new masters," Harel observed. Initially, the prisoner was terrified his captors would execute him or poison his food. And he seemed almost relieved to hear that the plan was to have him stand trial. (His family, though suspecting Israelis were behind his disappearance, were not about to make any public statements that could tip off the Argentines to Eichmann's real identity.)
Shalom had repeatedly driven to the airport to familiarise himself with the route and make himself known to the guards there. On May 20, the scheduled departure day, another member of his team had told key crew members that the plane would be carrying a passenger wearing an El Al uniform who would appear to be sick.
Back at the safe house, Eichmann was completely co-operative as he was bathed, shaved, and dressed in the airline's uniform. When the team doctor brought out an injection to sedate him, the prisoner assured him this was not necessary since he would remain quiet. The Israelis were not about to take that risk. Seeing that they were determined to stick with the plan, Eichmann once again co-operated fully, even pointing out, as the drug began to work, that the agents had left off his jacket, asking them to put it on so he would look exactly like the other crew members.
The mystery passenger
Eichmann dozed as he was driven in a three-car convoy to the airport. Seeing that all the passengers of the first car were in El Al uniforms, the guard allowed everyone through. Once they reached the plane, the agents kept Eichmann surrounded tightly and supported him as he was manoeuvered up the steps. Deposited in the first-class cabin, he was near other "crew" members who also pretended to sleep.
The cover story was that they were all part of the relief crew that needed to rest up before they would take over later. Just after midnight, which meant the date was officially May 21, the plane took off. Once it had left Argentine airspace, the "crew" in the first class cabin got up to embrace each other and celebrate their success.
The rest of the real crew finally learnt the identity of their mystery passenger.
Harel remembered later what had happened when he had gone to see his famed captive at the safe house in Buenos Aires.
"When I actually saw Eichmann for the first time, I was amazed at my reaction," he recalled. Instead of feeling hatred, his first thought was: "Well now, doesn't he look just like any other man!" Then he asked himself: "What makes such a creature, created in the likeness of man, into a monster?"
This is an edited extract from In Pursuit by Andrew Nagorski, published by Simon & Schuster Australia, available now, $35.
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