Tuviah Friedman, 1922–2011

The Nazi hunter who sought revenge

Tuviah Friedman devoted most of his adult life to hunting Nazis, pursuing them obsessively from his office in Haifa, Israel. In 1945, he captured SS operative Konrad Buchmayer by infiltrating a prisoner-of-war camp, where he posed as an SS officer in a tattered uniform. But the Nazi he sought most avidly, Holocaust organizer Adolf Eichmann, eluded his grasp. After Eichmann’s capture in 1960 by Israeli intelligence agents, Friedman spent years demanding that the Israeli government reward one of his informants, whose tip, he insisted, had broken the case.

Friedman made no bones about the motivation for his search, said The New York Times. Having escaped from a Nazi labor camp himself, he was “seeking to avenge the deaths of every member of his immediate family except for his sister, Bella.” Born in Radom, Poland, where his father owned a printing business, he spent the last months of World War II and the immediate postwar period near his hometown, chasing fugitive Nazis. When he caught them, he didn’t always hand them over to authorities. By his own account, he “captured, tortured, and sometimes killed Nazis as he roamed the Polish countryside.” He would even whip some of his captives, just as he had been whipped by guards when he was interned. After the war, Friedman joined a secret Jewish society in Vienna “that was helping Israel come into being even as it strove to avenge that past.” His superior gave him an order that shaped his destiny. “Friedman, you must find Eichmann,” the man said. “I will say it to you again: You must find Eichmann.”

Unlike the more famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, Friedman “toiled in obscurity,” said The Washington Post. After moving to Israel, he was ignored or sometimes mocked as “Herr Eichmann” by his neighbors in Haifa. In 1959 he claimed, erroneously, that Eichmann had been spotted in Kuwait. In reality, the closest Friedman ever got to Eichmann was during Friedman’s visit to an electrical-goods store in Linz, Austria, which was owned by Eichmann’s father. Friedman left hurriedly after buying a lightbulb. Once out the door, he flung the bulb to the street and spat on the shattered glass. Friedman continued his single-minded pursuit even as popular interest in capturing Nazis waned.

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After announcing a $10,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Eichmann—despite a lack of funds to back the offer—Friedman received a tip. A correspondent in Argentina who was interested in the reward wrote to say that Eichmann was living in Buenos Aires under an assumed name. Friedman, in turn, told Israeli intelligence. But the Israeli agents were already on Eichmann’s tail. Commandos captured Eichmann in 1960 and brought him to Israel to stand trial. Friedman supplied many documents for the prosecution’s case. A decade later, Israel rewarded Friedman’s informant with $10,000, which Friedman viewed as recognition of his contribution to Eichmann’s capture. “All these years I was a beaten man,” he said. “But I had patience.”

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