The taut drama Operation Finale revisits history and brings to life the dramatic capture, by Mossad operatives, of Adolf Eichmann, one of the chief architects of the Holocaust.
Filmmaker Chris Weitz and scriptwriter and historian Matthew Orton offer a dramatic rendition of the historic events that took place in Argentina 15 years after the end of World War II.
After Mossad received a tip that Eichmann was hiding in Argentina under the alias Ricardo Klement, Israel sends a group of elite operatives to abduct the architect of the Final Solution and bring him to Israel to be tried for his crimes.
At the time, Argentina is harboring a sizable number of runaway German Nazis, leaving Israel no hope that an extradition request for Eichmann would be honored by the Argentinian government. So Eichmann’s capture is a top secret, illegal operation.
The group led by Mossad operative Peter Malkin abducts Eichmann taking him to a safe house.
Humanity and courage
While they await for the day of their departure, Malkin spends time with Eichmann trying to understand the man he saw as a monster while Eichmann pretends he was nothing more than a mere cog in the Nazi apparatus.
Oscar Isaac plays Malkin, and to get a deeper understanding of his role he read Malkin’s memoir Eichmann in My Hands.
“I knew I wanted to do the movie because what happened in that room with those two men is so fascinating and so bizarre and ugly and uncomfortable,” Isaac said. “It also shows humanity, the courage that Malkin had to decide to identify with this mass murderer when it was much easier to choke him and be angry and torture him.”
Isaac says considering his character was a man grieving the murder of his sister and her children by the Nazis, he showed incredible restraint.
“It’s almost as if Malkin convinced Eichmann of his humanity,” Isaac said. “The whole thing was about, ‘If we were like you, you’d be dead right now.’”
Sir Ben Kingsley, who in the past has interpreted numerous Jewish characters in Holocaust films, now takes on the role of the top Nazi operative, Eichmann. He tells VOA he interpreted Eichmann as vulnerable and human to show that those who commit the most heinous crimes are not mythical evil monsters but people among us.
He relates a personal story that has haunted him over the years and informed his decision to take up this role.
“I was outside an old synagogue with a Jewish journalist, a young woman, and a Hungarian approached us and asked us what we were doing, and we said ‘We are filming the life of Simon Wiesenthal’ to which he replied, ‘Ah you Jews. You should just keep quiet, because it never happened. And if you don’t keep quiet, it will happen again.’ Now work that one out. Work that one out. Absolutely shocking!” the actor said.
A personal story and catharsis
Filmmaker Chris Weitz, a son of Holocaust survivors, says the story is a personal one.
“Because I was raised as a child of somebody who had lost everything to this spasm of national hatred, and so there is a notion that no matter how good things were things could go haywire down the line. And I think indeed a lot of people are waking up to the possibility that if it’s not anti-Semitism it could be anti-immigrant sentiment, or various other forms of racism that could totally disrupt society.”
During the film’s premiere at the Holocaust museum in Washington, screenwriter and historian Orton said, Eichmann’s trial in Israel was a landmark historical moment.
“The trial allowed them to grieve, allowed them that moment acknowledging that had happened to Israelis, Jewish people and move on from there. So, even if there are still people, deluded people in the world who believe that it is something that didn’t happen, look at where we are!” He points to the hallowed halls of the Holocaust Museum. “That was one of the reasons it was so pivotal. It allowed for national catharsis.”
Orton hopes that the film will bring awareness to audiences who knew nothing about this part of history.
“My sincere hope is that people will see a movie like this and say to themselves, ‘I want to learn more about that. I want to see where it differs from reality. I want to explore for myself,’ and so, hopefully, telling these stories through film, through television, inspires people to actually grapple with history,” Orton said