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Israeli Agent Peter Malkin Dies; Captured Nazi Fugitive

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 3, 2005; Page B05

Peter Z. Malkin, 77, the Jewish guerrilla and Israeli intelligence agent who captured Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann on a street in Buenos Aires, died March 1 in New York. No cause of death was disclosed.

Mr. Malkin was born in Poland, raised in the British mandate of Palestine and by age 12 had been recruited to fight with the Haganah, the Jewish underground forces. He became an explosives specialist and was known for donning all manner of disguises. For years, he posed as an itinerant painter. He also developed expertise in martial arts.

Peter Z. Malkin rose to chief of operations of the Mossad and retired to New York.

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In time, he served as chief of operations for the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad.

His most famous exploit was the snatching of Eichmann on May 11, 1960. Eichmann, a key architect of the Nazi Holocaust who coined the term "Final Solution," had fled to Argentina in the early 1950s. He used a pseudonym, lived in a working-class suburb of Buenos Aires and worked quietly at a Mercedes-Benz plant.

After receiving a tip, the Mossad began sending investigators to Argentina. Some, Mr. Malkin said, made "gaffes almost beyond invention." One overturned a jeep in the quiet neighborhood; another, hoping to talk to Eichmann and his family, used a cover story about being a businessman seeking to build a factory nearby.

Appalled, Mr. Malkin told his bosses that any successful operation would have to involve just himself and maybe two or three others as backup. Asked by his superior how he might manage to subdue Eichmann, who would likely put up a struggle, Mr. Malkin placed his boss in a painful chokehold.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Malkin left for Argentina with an elite commando team and spent months planning for all contingencies, including how to hold Eichmann in a safe house before spiriting him to Israel. To maintain his cover, he drew stained-glass windows in churches.

"I spent a lot of time in churches," he told the New York Times. "If you go to a synagogue, someone is always asking if you're alone, if you're married. In a church in a hundred years no one would ask."

On the appointed day, he passed Eichmann in the street and, as planned, said to the approaching man the only words he knew in Spanish, "Un momentito, señor." They struggled, and Mr. Malkin overpowered Eichmann, dragging him into a waiting car.

In his memoir, "Eichmann in My Hands" (1990), Mr. Malkin described being surprised at how undistinguished and rather bony Eichmann looked. He was expecting a "monster."

He said his interrogations of Eichmann were freakishly revealing, as when he confronted Eichmann about the death of Mr. Malkin's nephew in Poland: "My sister's boy, my favorite playmate, he was just your son's age. Also blond and blue-eyed, just like your son. And you killed him."

Mr. Malkin wrote: "Genuinely perplexed by the observation, he actually waited a moment to see if I would clarify it. 'Yes,' he said finally, 'but he was Jewish, wasn't he?' "

A diplomatic uproar followed Eichmann's removal from Argentina, but he was tried and hanged in Israel in 1962.

Mr. Malkin was born Zvi Malchin. He was 4 when his family, having suffered anti-Semitic indignities for years, decided to leave Poland for Palestine in 1933. Because of a shortage of exit visas, Mr. Malkin's 23-year-old sister stayed behind. She perished in the Holocaust, along with other relatives.

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