By S.A. Halevy
The Jewish Voice and Opinion
“Jews are commanded to surely obliterate the memory of Amalek from beneath the Heavens. I was given the privilege of erasing this descendant of Amalek in our generation, and I did,” said Shalom Nagar, 65, an Israeli of Yemenite origin who physically carried out the execution of the Nazi architect of the Final Solution, Adolf Eichmann, in May 1962. For more than 40 years, Mr. Nagars identity was kept secret to protect him from the wrath of Germans and neo-Nazis. It was revealed to the Israeli public this past May.
Last month, at Congregation Bnai Yeshurun, Mr. Nagar, whom the Israeli press has dubbed “Satans Hangman,” shared his experiences as the guard and executioner of the man who methodically, and without any feelings of guilt, compunction, or regret, plotted the murder of six million Jews. Special Precautions Before working with Israels Prison Authority, Mr. Nagar had served with distinction as a paratrooper. After Eichmann was spirited to Israel from Argentina, convicted of genocide, sentenced to death, and incarcerated in the Ramle prison, Mr. Nagar became one of his guards.
Speaking in Hebrew, Mr. Nagar recalled that special precautions were taken to protect Eichmann and ensure that he would not meet an “untimely end,” either from Jews seeking vengeance or Nazi sympathizers who were eager to make sure Jews would not have the pleasure of hanging him. Mr. Nagar recalled that five cells were devoted to this one prisoner who lived in the innermost one. Guards were posted in each of the four cells between him and the outside world. “There was always someone in the cell with him to prevent him from harming himself. It was important that he be brought to justice by the people he tried to exterminate,” said Mr. Nagar. Strict Regimen Although he was living in Yemen at the time of the Holocaust and had no direct experience with that Jewish catastrophe, he said, “The trauma of the Holocaust–what happened to my Jewish brothers and sisters–always weighed heavily on my mind and heart.” When Eichmann was confined in the prison, Mr. Nagar and his fellow guards followed a regimen of 24 consecutive hours in his presence followed by 48 hours of furlough. “It was intense, as we were all aware of what he had done. Guards of Ashkenazic descent, and certainly Holocaust survivors themselves, were kept at some distance, in order to thwart any potential attacks against him,” he said.
Tasting His Food The responsibility for tasting Eichmanns food when it came from the cafeteria fell to Mr. Nagar. “If I did not die within two to three minutes, the food was served to him,” recalled Mr. Nagar. He remembered his commander joking about the situation. “If you die, Nagar, we can replace you, but this prisoner cannot be replaced,” the commander said. No Regrets The architect of the Final Solution spent his days in Ramle reading or writing, but rarely spoke and never expressed any regret. “He was treated like a prisoner at all times, and surely this caused him untold anguish–to have Jews controlling his life and dictating his every move,” said Mr. Nagar. During Eichmanns entire time in Ramle, he had no human contact at all. When his lawyer, priest, or even his wife–she came only once– came to visit, he was placed in a fully enclosed glass cage so that no one could touch him or pass anything to him. When he was taken from his cell–even down a short corridor to bathe–his hands and feet were shackled. When Mr. Nagar asked his commander why this was necessary, seeing as Eichmann could not escape, the commander ordered, “Shackle him. I want him never to forget that he is a prisoner of the Jewish people. He should never be allowed to walk freely even in the prison itself.” Every Grisly Detail An ostensibly unassuming family man, Eichmann is known historically as one of the most sinister of all the Nazis. He was entrusted– and became obsessed–with the extermination of the
Jewish people, “every single Jew he could lay his hands on,” in the words of Rudolf Hoess, the commander of Auschwitz. Every grisly detail of the “Final Solution” fell under Eichmanns jurisdiction in the Gestapo, from the location of many of the concentration and death camps to the pace and timing of the deportations of the Jews from all across Europe and the mass executions themselves. He was diabolically methodical and orderly, even visiting the death camps to encourage greater efficiency in the slaughter. During the Holocaust, Eichmann even supervised the disposition of Jewish property, and after the war he became the most wanted Nazi criminal still at-large. In a daring operation in 1960, the Mossad captured Eichmann in his new home in Argentina and secretly transported him to Israel. He stood trial in 1961 for his crimes, and the court rejected his defense that he was but a “small cog in the Nazi machine and “only following orders.” Eichmann was duly convicted and sentenced to death. Lottery Mr. Nagar recalled that
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky (left) in Teaneck with Shalom Nagar shortly before the execution date, the guards held a lottery in the prison to see who would actually put Eichmann to death. “I did not want to win such a lottery, but when my name came up, I accepted this as the will of Heaven,” said Mr. Nagar. He was not working on the prescribed date, but his commander sent a police car late a night to pick him up on the street. “I could not even tell my wife what was happening as the public was not to know either the promise moment of his execution or who would participate in his demise,” he said. Special Room Shortly after midnight, Eichmann was removed from his cell and taken a short distance to a room that had been especially prepared for this purpose. A pit had been dug, over which a scaffold and a small platform had been erected. “My commander placed the noose around this murderers neck, and a white mask because we could not find a black one,” said Mr. Nagar. The commander then told Eichmann that the President of Israel had rejected his request for a pardon. “He also told him something else that I could not hear,” said Mr. Nagar. “When I received the signal, Eichmann muttered something else in German that I could not understand. I pulled the rope removing the platform, and this vile creature dangled in the air in the pit itself. Within a short time, his body was lifeless, but we let him hang there for close to two hours, making sure, I guess, that this monster was really dead.” Angel of Death Mr. Nagar said that when he went to retrieve the body, Eichmanns face “was white as a sheet, his eyes were open and his tongue was hanging out. I gasped and thought to myself: I am staring at the Angel of Death himself.” The rope around Eichmanns neck had caused abrasions, and so he had bled on his garments. “I did not realize then that his stomach had become bloated with air, so when I took down his body, he emitted a loud argh as the air left his body. I was so frightened, I thought I would become another of Eichmanns victims the first Yemenite Jew. I had nightmares for a year after that because of this,” he said. Special Oven What followed was also eerie. Mr. Nagar and his colleagues carried Eichmanns body on a stretcher across the prison compound to a building which housed a specially constructed oven. “An Ashkenazic Jew–a Holocaust survivor–was allowed to light the oven, and then I shoved his body in there. The oven was sloped and easily retrieved him. Several hours later, he was all ashes–absolute tumah (impurity). “We did not want even his ashes to contaminate the coastline of Jaffa or the holy land of Israel, so he was taken beyond Israels territorial waters and dumped in the Mediterranean,” said Mr. Nagar. At the time, Mr. Nagar said, he did not realize how much the entire episode would affect him. “For almost a year, I could not sleep. I saw Eichmann in my dreams and in my waking hours. I would walk down the street, turn around, and think he was following me. I even passed his cell once, saw he was not there, and immediately thought he had escaped. It took me a long time to believe that this mass murderer had actually been brought to justice and was executed,” he said. Finding Comfort Over the years, Mr. Nagar has been able to reflect on his role in this historic event. His teacher, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, told him that two people in the Bible killed Amalekites, but did not truly fulfill the Biblical mandate of “complete eradication.” The Prophet Shmuel beheaded Agag, king of Amalek, but he was left intact. Mordechai hanged Haman the Amalekite, but his body, too, was left whole. “You, Shalom,” Rav Ovadiah said, “hanged this son of Amalek, burned him to ashes, and utterly erased him from under the Heavens. You did more than even Shmuel or Mordechai.” “When he said that, I was greatly comforted,” Mr. Nagar told the Bnai Yeshurun community. Seeking Justice Introducing Mr. Nagar, the spiritual leader of Bnai Yeshurun, Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, said the Jewish people are not vengeful by nature, but have a keen sense of justice and an obligation to see enemies punished. “When we have the opportunity to carry out a punishment of a sworn enemy–even if he inflicted much harm upon us, like Pharaoh of Egypt–we do so and then sing about it. In our world, we do not get to witness the divine Hand of justice too often. Mr. Nagar had that opportunity, and he represented the collective will of our people. We are not motivated by revenge, but by a love of justice,” said Rabbi Pruzansky. Demjanjuk Years after the Eichmann execution, Mr. Nagar was offered the opportunity to execute Ivan Demjanjuk after he was convicted and sentenced to death by an Israeli court for mass murder during the Holocaust. Mr. Nagar, however, declined. Subsequently, Mr. Demjanjuks conviction was overturned on appeal when Israels High Court accepted his alibi that he could not have murdered Jews at Treblinka, for which he was indicted, because he was actually murdering Jews at Sobibor, for which he was not indicted. Some have referred to Mr. Demjanjuk, who might have been the notorious Ivan the Terrible, as, in reality, Ivan the Bad Enough. Filmed at the Kollel Just this year, after more than 30 years of service to the State of Israel, Mr. Nagar retired. After his identity as Eichmanns executioner was made public, German television tracked Mr. Nagar down for a story about the mass murderer. Mr. Nagar agreed to be interviewed, but he insisted the filming take place at the kollel where he learns Torah daily. The German broadcasters suggested a studio, but Mr. Nagar was adamant: he would consent to do the interview only if the filming would take place in the kollel near his home in Israel. Finally, the Germans agreed and the cameramen photographed the men learning before Mr. Nagar answered the questions. Why? At the end, the German journalist asked Mr. Nagar why it was so important to him to be interviewed “in this cramped House of Study instead of in a studio where we all would have been more comfortable.” Mr. Nagar answered by telling the interviewer that he knew the film would be broadcast on German television and seen by millions of people. “I want the German people to know that not only did the Jewish people survive physically and are here in Israel, but also that we are still learning Torah. You could not destroy us. I want them to see Jews alive and learning Torah. For the Jewish people live, and the Torah lives, too,” he said.