Israeli agents who kidnapped Nazi mastermind Adolf Eichmann from Argentina in 1960 found the notorious death camp doctor Josef Mengele but let him get away, one of the operatives said Tuesday.
Mengele was one of the most wanted Nazi war criminals, a doctor who conducted cruel experiments on twins and dwarves at the Auschwitz concentration camp and killed children with lethal injections. He selected prisoners who would be subjected to his experiments and sent others straight to their death in gas chambers.
Rafi Eitan, now an 81-year-old Israeli Cabinet minister, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he and other Mossad agents located Mengele living in a Buenos Aires apartment with his wife at the time of Eichmann's capture in 1960.
But they decided that trying to nab him would risk sabotaging the capture of Eichmann, who implemented Adolf Hitler's “final solution” to kill European Jewry and was deemed a more important target.
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It was known that Mengele was living in Buenos Aires around the time of Eichmann's capture. But Eitan's comments indicated the Israelis were closer to him than had been previously thought – and shed light on why they decided to abandon an attempt to catch him.
Eichmann was responsible for implementing Hitler's plan that exterminated 6 million Jews during World War II. After his capture, he was spirited to Israel, tried and executed.
Mengele was infamous for his sadistic experiments in the death camps. He injected dye into the eyes of twins to change their color and sewed them together to try to create artificially conjoined twins. He ordered twins killed and then dissected for examination of their organs.
After the war, Mengele fled Germany and ended up in Argentina. Informants working with the Mossad had seen him while the agents were in Buenos Aires, Eitan said.
The Mossad men located Mengele's apartment, and on one specific day even knew he was at home, Eitan said. But the next day, Mengele left with his wife for what the agents believed would be a temporary absence.
At the time, the Israelis had snatched Eichmann and were holding him while they waited to whisk him out of the country. They feared that if they waited for Mengele to come back, the Eichmann operation would be discovered.
By the time the Mossad sent a team back to Buenos Aires a few weeks later, it was too late.
Mengele drowned in Brazil in 1979 and experts identified the body as his six years later.