Fifty-three years ago today, one of the major architects of the Holocaust was executed for his crimes against humanity. Adolf Eichmann, who organized the deportation and murder of millions of Jews, was caught in Argentina 55 years ago and brought back to Israel where he stood trial. Haaretz’s Ofer Aderet brings us the fascinating story of an Israeli stewardess who helped bring this Nazi war criminal to justice:
The mourning notice for Dr. Luba Volk this March stated that she was a pensioner who’d worked for El Al. For reasons of brevity, there was no mention of her part in the dramatic operation to capture Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, which took place 55 years ago this month.
Volk was born in Warsaw in 1925, fled with her parents in a horse-drawn cart a few days after the Nazis invaded in 1939, and about a year later immigrated to the Land of Israel. She was one of the first employees of Israel’s national airline, El Al, which was established in 1948. Among other things, between 1949-1952 she helped organize the airlift operations from Yemen – “Magic Carpet” – and Iraq – “Ezra & Nehemia” (“Ali Baba”).
At the end of the 1950s, Volk went to Buenos Aires with her husband and their small son, for her husband’s work. At that time, there were no regular flights between Argentina and Israel. One day, though, she received a telegram from El Al that was signed by a senior company official, appointing her the company’s representative in the country. The official reason was to organize the landing of a flight that would bring an Israeli delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Abba Eban, to the celebration marking 150 years of Argentina’s independence.
“Gradually, it became clear to me that behind the official role for which I had been appointed, another mission I didn’t know about was lurking,” she later explained…
On May 11, 1960, Eichmann was on his way home from work in Buenos Aires when he was seized by Mossad agents (who had arrived in Buenos Aires from all over the world, acting under the leadership of Rafi Eitan). For nine days he was held in hiding. On May 20, he was brought onto the El Al plane that had landed in Argentina the day before, bringing the diplomatic delegation from Israel.
Eichmann was dressed in the uniform of an El Al crew member. In his jacket pocket were the forged passport and identity card that had been prepared for him. He arrived at the plane drugged and accompanied on either side by two Mossad agents, who pretended he was ill. Alter the plane took off, it stopped for refueling in Dakar, Senegal, and continued on to Israel. On Sunday May 22, Eichmann landed in Israel and was placed under arrest.
Volk watched then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s dramatic announcement of Eichmann’s capture. “This announcement,” she recalled later, “was broadcast by the media all over the world, and of course also in Argentina. I finally realized what the real purpose of the flight had been and what my role was in the operation.”