Book Review: “The House on Garibaldi Street” by Isser Harel (1975)

“The sight of that miserable runt, who had lost every vestige of his former superiority and arrogance the moment he was stripped of his uniform and powers of authority, gave them a feeling of insult and profound scorn. Was this the personification of evil? Was this the tool used by a diabolic government to slaughter millions of innocent people? This nonentity, devoid of human dignity and pride, was this the messenger of death for six million Jews?” (204)

My weak knowledge of Nazi history is nothing to boast about, so it is not surprising that I was only vaguely familiar with Adolf Eichmann or even of “The Final Solution” to the so-called “Jewish problem” (the problem being the Jews’ existence, the solution being their extermination). Yet in one of his many sermons, Ravi Zacharias references this book in relation to a discussion on the evil borne inside the human heart (I believe he even quoted the above passage), so I felt impelled to experience the book for myself. The House on Geribaldi Street by Isser Harel details how Jewish spies under Harel’s leadership tracked down and captured Adolf Eichmann—the Nazi leader who organized “The Final Solution”—in Argentina after his 15 years on the run. The book reads like a Le’Carre novel, but is truth from beginning to end.

While much of the book describes the Jewish spy network’s process of tracking, capturing, holding, and delivering Eichmann finally to the government in Jerusalem, Harel also philosophizes about such deeply-felt issues as conscience, hatred, and regret. Harel himself told one of his spies that “this operation…is a humane and national mission that transcends all others, and its success is more important in my eyes than any other consideration. I am acting in this matter according to the dictates of my conscience” (222), and so, by his example, were all.

From the moment of capture, Harel’s men needed to withhold all feelings of personal angst and hatred towards the beast who murdered many of their own parents and siblings in concentration camps across Europe, while at the same time they were to behave professionally, handling this captive in a gentle and humane manner, feeding and bathing him and listening to him chat in their own sacred tongue. While interviewing Eichmann, who proves himself to be cooperative beyond measure, they had to fight the temptation to believe his words of guilt and regret, instead holding on to the truths of history they knew so well:
Eichmann had begun expressing regret for all he had done to the Jews during the war. He described himself as a small cog in in the mighty and tyrannical machinery of the Nazi regime, and he claimed that he was unable to exert any influence on its decisions; but now he realized that serious crimes had been committed against the Jewish people, and he was prepared to do all he could to prevent any recurrence of such things. He was prepared, consequently, to report to the world all the atrocities perpetrated during the war, as a warning and deterrent to the rest of humanity (217).

When finally meeting Eichmann for the first time, as the criminal sat bound and blindfolded in a secret room inside one of their many Argentine safe-houses, Isser himself battled his own impressions, for the man before him was far less in stature than what he represented in evil:
“When I actually saw Eichmann for the first time, I was amazed at my reaction. I didn’t respond to the sight of him with the loathing and hatred my people had described to me. My first thought was, ‘Well now, doesn’t he look just like any other man!’ I don’t know how I had imagined a man who had massacred millions would look. All I know is that I kept saying to myself, ‘If I met him on the street I would see no difference between him and the thousands of other men passing by.’ And I kept asking myself, ‘What makes such a creature? Is there no outward sign that distinguishes him from normal men? Or is the difference only in the corrupt soul?'” (218).

Few people living in the early 1960s can forget the corrupt soul of Adolph Eichmann or the impact of his Jerusalem trial, reported around the globe from beginning to end. I hadn’t yet been born then, so this book was news to me. History thanks Isser Harel for capturing Adolph Eichmann before he could die of natural causes, and I thank him for capturing the story for generations to share. It’s a chapter in our world history that cannot be forgotten, so I recommend this book highly.

©2014 E.T.

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One Response to Book Review: “The House on Garibaldi Street” by Isser Harel (1975)

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut” (1961) | Elliot's Blog

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