Before we get started, here’s part of a poem to remind us of Adolf Hitler and the Nazis:
Never Shall I Forget
Never shall I forget that night,
the first night in the camp …
Never shall I forget that smoke.
Never shall I forget the little faces of the children
whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke
beneath a silent blue sky …
Never shall I forget these things …
And yet, 70 years later, we’ve already forgotten. Another unthinkable crime against humanity is taking place right now.
So. Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust masterpiece “Schindler’s List” was about a Nazi businessman who hired Jews to work in his factory to save them from extermination.
“Operation Finale” is about a Nazi mastermind who fled to Argentina to work in a factory to hide the fact that he personally marched six million Jews to their extermination.
So which movie’s better? Nothing beats Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List”; I’ve seen it five times. The film’s arrival was the moment the world realized that box-office-busting Spielberg was also a cinematic artist of the highest caliber, especially in the telling of his tribe’s darkest hour.
But “Operation Finale” is no slouch in the telling of the Adolf Eichmann story. One thing that links the two films (and raises the quality of both) is that Ben Kingsley stars in both.
Nazi SS-Obersturmbannführer Eichmann, head of the Department of Jewish Affairs, didn’t have one of those Nazi nicknames, like Josef Mengele’s “Angel of Death,” Klaus Barbie’s “Butcher of Lyon,” or Irma Grese’s “Hyena of Auschwitz.” But he should have. I’m thinking of a nickname. I’ll come back to the nickname.
Sneakier Than Hitler
Hitler (along with Himmler and Göring) punked out and committed suicide to avoid justice. Eichmann ran away. There’re lots of Nazi descendants in South America.
But Israel’s counterpart to the CIA, the Mossad intelligence agency, had its ear to the ground for 15 years, though Eichmann’s trail had long gone cold. He was finally located in Argentina. Mossad agents kidnapped him there, and then flew him to Israel for a trial that was broadcast globally.
However, when someone from the vast Jewish network finally came to Mossad bearing evidence of Eichmann’s whereabouts, at first, instead of treating it as good news, Isser Harel (Lior Raz)—the director of Mossad—claimed the agency was already tapped out and preoccupied with helping the Jewish state justify its merely 12-year existence to the world. They felt they were already spread too thin to follow up on old news. The decision to bring Eichmann to justice ultimately came from Israel’s recognition of the opportunity to use the trial as a means to define the Jewish state.
Raphael Lemkin may have coined the term “genocide” in 1944, but it wasn’t until Eichmann’s trial in 1961 that the horrific testimony of Holocaust survivors was borne witness to by the world at large for the first time.
“Whom Did You Lose?”
At the time of Eichmann’s tracking down, Israel was a hodgepodge of concentration- and death-camp-tattooed refugees. In a powerful scene, Mossad agents test each other for commitment by comparing familial losses. It brought to mind my former Jewish acting coach, who lost his entire family to death camps and whose lingering bitterness still causes him to come down hard on German acting students. Evidence of Hitler’s poison still lingers in 2018.
Regardless of who lost the most family members to Eichmann, the agents have their work cut out for them. There’s no possibility of extraditing him, and no military transport aircraft available; they’ll have to fly El Al Israeli commercial airlines.
Oscar Isaac plays Mossad agent Peter Malkin, who’s shown practicing the Krav Maga-based takedown technique he’ll eventually use to snatch Eichmann. He slams his prey, who’s walking home from his factory job, into the roadside grass—whereupon Eichmann, flailing about, loses his glasses and screams in lily-livered fashion for his wife.
Malkin needs to put a glove on his hand; he doesn’t want to touch Eichmann’s mouth. Malkin has to feed Eichmann in captivity. Malkin has to accompany Eichmann to the toilet. Malkin is haunted throughout by visions of who he lost: his beautiful sister Fruma. We see flashbacks of her, dangling at the end of a rope in the forest, surrounded by snickering Nazi soldiers.
Eichmann and Malkin
Haley Lu Richardson (currently also in “Support the Girls”) plays Sylvia Hermann, who sets up the story of how Adolf Eichmann was discovered. She dates a blond young man by the name of Klaus Eichmann (Joe Alwyn), whose father is named—ahem—Ricardo Klement. Klaus reminds one of the Hitler Youth character of Rolf in “The Sound of Music” and functions in a similar capacity in Argentina’s underground Nazi movement.
Once Mossad finally snatches Eichmann, the heart of the film revolves around the scenes pitting Eichmann against Malkin, a subtle waging of psychological warfare and brainwashing that packs a punch. On the one side, you’ve got the ultimate slippery escape-artist Nazi, a brilliant mind-game tactician. (You may find yourself wondering whether Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs” might have been based on Eichmann).
On the other side, you’ve got Malkin. In order to get Eichmann on that commercial jet, Malkin’s got to convince him to sign a document stating that he’s leaving Argentina freely and that the telling of his story to the world, in Israel, is the best way to go. For this, Eichmann extracts personal information from Malkin so that he can then use it to manipulate Malkin into completely losing it and killing Eichmann in a fit of rage. Suicide by Malkin, as it were.
“I followed orders, just like you’re following orders!” is the name of the game. The parallels drawn (that both were, and are, trying to save the country they love) are tricky enough and sprinkle enough reasonable doubt in Malkin’s mind to keep him off balance.
Six Million Souls on His Back
For a nickname for Eichmann, I like the title of Hannah Arendt’s book about him: “A Report on the Banality of Evil.” It sums up that main thing everyone knows about the Nazis—the ultimate cop-out, pathetic excuse: “I was just doing my job.”
But while the concept of the banal Nazi who doted on his family while feeling absolutely no remorse for killing millions of German Jews is powerful, I like the nickname “Chained to Six Million Souls.” That’s six million incarnations he’s destined to live (provided you believe in the cosmic laws of reincarnation and karma), wherein he’ll have to experience the anguish he caused, not to mention the heavy cost of taking a human life—of every last, single, solitary one of those six million souls. It takes a lot of pain to resurrect a conscience from the dead.
He’ll have to experience the pain of the mother standing in a hastily dug trench, holding her baby up to the looming, helmeted soldiers of death. He’ll have to experience firsthand her baby’s last breath, whose brains splattered on Eichmann’s uniform as Eichmann daintily presses a silk handkerchief to his nose to hide the stench of unwashed, imprisoned, Jewish bodies.
Eichmann’s banal evil foreshadowed what is currently going on under our very noses, and anyone who reads The Epoch Times regularly knows what I’m about to say. This is an opportunity to shine a spotlight:
“Chained to Six Millions Souls” has finally made himself useful. In “Operation Finale,” he reminds us why we should never forget how short our memories are, and how, after only a few short generations, banal evil has resurfaced in the form of incarceration, torture, and live organ-harvesting from innocent prisoners of conscience in mainland China. Occurring on an unprecedented scale. “Operation Finale” engenders much food for thought.
Director: Chris Weitz
Starring: Oscar Isaac, Ben Kingsley, Haley Lu Richardson, Mélanie Laurent, Lior Raz, Nick Kroll, Michael Aronov, Ohad Knoller, Greg Hill, Torben Liebrecht, Michael Benjamin Hernandez, Joe Alwyn, Greta Scacchi
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 29
Rated 4 stars out of 5