Peter Malchin (1927 - 2005) is considered by many to have been the last century's most brilliant intelligence agent. His most famous feat was the capture of Adolf Eichmann, architect of the Holocaust, in Argentina in 1960. Eichmann subsequently went on to become the only man executed by Israel after a televised trial which ended in 1962. Malchin famously said that he could never allow himself to fail in his task because of the six million pairs of eyes on him as he did it.
Born in Poland, his family moved to British Palestine where Malchin grew up. However, a rising tide of anti-semitism in the country compelled them to return to the Palestinian Mandate in 1936, where Malchin joined the shady Jewish underground of terrorist and resistance organizations. In 1939 he joined the Hagana, a military organization which sought to promote Jewish interests in the Mandate, and which eventually became the IDF. Malchin was an explosives expert and later joined the secret services, eventually becoming Director of Operations for Mossad, Israel's intelligence and spying service.
Due to the nature of Malchin's work, much of it must remain unknown for generations. However, his most symbolic and famous act is doubtless the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Argentina, where he had been living under cover since the end of World War II, working at a local Mercedes-Benz factory. After the war many Jewish groups and survivors dedicated their time to tracking down escaped Nazi war criminals, and Israel was keen to act in its role as the defender of Jewish people. So when the Mossad learnt in 1960 that Eichmann, who had been involved in the logistics of the Holocaust, was living under a false name in Argentina, they were determined to bring him to justice.
Malchin and his team spent months following the Nazi's movements. Eichmann was a man of meticulous habit and took the same route every day, so it was determined to capture him in his neighbourhood one day after he had finished working. Wearing gloves so as to not have to touch him, Malchin tapped him on the shoulder and said the only three words of Spanish he knew: "Un momentito, Señor". Going for the throat to wrestle Eichmann to the ground, Malchin and another agent speedily bundled him into a car and took him to a safe house.
Malchin spent ten days interrogating and caring for Eichmann before he was transported out of the country. He recorded the events of these days in a book entitled My Hands On Eichmann. Malchin had lost 150 relatives in the Holocaust, including his sister, and the restraint required not to kill Eichmann there and then must have been immense. Eichmann spoke Hebrew and at one point he apparently began to recite the Sherna prayer, which surely must have been on the lips of countless Jews as they faced the prospect of the gas chamber. By not killing Eichmann there and then, Malchin allowed the Jewish state itself to exact revenge.
The rest of Malchin's 27 year long career was very distinguished, and he received Israel's highest honour twice. He was active in stopping Arab and Soviet agents from penetrating Israel and causing damage, with one of his greatest coups being obtaining a list of ex-Nazi nuclear scientists who were working with the Egyptians. Once he hid under the conference table at a meeting of the Egyptian cabinet after being interrupted while bugging Nasser's conference room. He was proud that his work had involved intelligence-gathering that saved lives and boasted that he had never killed anyone.
There was also another side to Malchin. When he was undercover, he often adopted the guise of an artist, and his work includes sketches and paintings done of Eichmann during those ten days in Argentina. His art is critically acclaimed and amazing considering the circumstances under which some of it was produced. It was this art which occupied him after his retirement, which he spent in the United States. Disillusioned by his successors and the heavy handed methods of the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security organization, he devoted his time to lecturing, art, and occasional private consulting in counter-terrorism.
By all accounts, Malchin was an extremely humane and humble man. He spoke seven languages, excelled at sport and art, and was probably the best intelligence agent of the last century. By bringing Eichmann to justice when the rest of the world had already begun to forget the horrors of the Holocaust, he did a great service to his country and humanity in proving that the tyrannical can never get away with their despicable actions. His death on March 2, 2005 of complications from a blood infection robs the world of a decent and humble man, and one would left the globe a little bit better than he found it. His service to humanity should not be forgotten.
After his execution, Eichmann's ashes were scattered so that no country would bear his grave. Peter Malchin lies in eternal rest under the ground of Tel Aviv.