A spy is only as good as his or her disguises. Raise suspicions with the wrong accent or a strange wig, and the jig might be up.
Avner Avraham became a master of disguise during his 28-year career with Mossad, the national intelligence agency of Israel. He retired four years ago with countless stories about close escapes and quick thinking.
“I look dark, like people from Iraq, and I speak Arabic,” says the 54-year-old Israeli son of Iraqi-Jewish immigrants and native Arabic-speaker. “So I can book a room in a hotel in an Arab country and say, ‘I’m Egyptian.’”
Today, the one-time spy is best known for publicizing the story of “Operation Finale,” the Mossad’s 1960 capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, illustrated in a 2018 MGM feature film of the same title, on which he served as an advisor.
Avraham will discuss this chapter of Jewish history and relay anecdotes on his time as a real-life spy on Sunday at 1 p.m., March 10 at Congregation Shalom, 7630 N. Santa Monica Blvd. in Fox Point. The program is a project of Shalom and the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
On the surface, the former Mossad agent may be parting the curtain on the shadowy and astonishing details of how Israeli spies smuggled the notorious Eichmann out of Buenos Aires to stand trial in Jerusalem. But Avraham has a deeper mission, tucked inside the storyline, and he still relies on the tools of his trade to get his major point across.
“The most important thing for me is to tell the story of the Holocaust in creative ways,” he says. “People don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘What a lovely day – let’s go to the Holocaust museum.’ “Operation Finale” is an outside-the-box way to teach about the Holocaust. Non-Jews are going to see the movie; I have proof that people in Arab and Muslim countries are going to see the movie because they want to see the Mossad, and [“Operation Finale” star] Ben Kingsley. They see how the Mossad captured Eichmann, but they also learn about the Holocaust and about the Nazis – and this is the idea. It’s like giving someone a candy and inside is the medicine.”
A lifelong history buff, Avraham first put his “Operation Finale” research into exhibition form in 2011, at Mossad Headquarters in Tel Aviv, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Eichmann trial. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was among the visitors and asked Avraham to mount the display at the Knesset. Avraham got unprecedented access to the Mossad archives and to former agents involved in Eichmann’s capture, and was approached by more and more people with artifacts and stories related to the historic capture.
“Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann” opened at the Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot (in collaboration with the Mossad) in Tel Aviv in 2012, making its U.S. debut four years later at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage in Cleveland, Ohio. The exhibition has since traveled to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie; the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Manhattan; and the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. It is now on display at the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in Delray Beach, Florida.
“I’m looking forward to coming to Milwaukee,” Avraham says. “I have a lot of behind-the-scenes stories and I will talk not only about the capture, but also the way that we teach about the Holocaust today.”
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How to go:
What: “Avner Avraham: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann”
When: Sunday, March 10, 1 p.m.
Where: Congregation Shalom, 7630 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Fox Point
Cost: Free and open to the public
Contact: Kari Altman 414-963-2716 or KariA@MilwaukeeJewish.org