Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Isser Harel was a man of rare talents and biographical diversity, having both served as the Director of the Mossad for eleven years, as well as having had a successful career as an author. The House on Garibaldi Street is perhaps his best-known work of non-fiction, detailing the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann in Argentina to extract him to Israel to stand trial for his role in engineering “The Final Solution”, all while avoiding an international scandal.
Table of contents
Isser Harel Reveals the True Account of Eichmann’s Capture
Special forces and intelligence services around the world hold a sort of mystique over the general population, and regardless of how many books one reads on the subject, there is always the tacit agreement of leaving certain truths and details unspoken. This everlasting mystery in regards to how exactly intelligence services work has kept many obsessed with the subject, myself included. With this in mind, The House on Garibaldi Street by Isser Harel felt like a godsend when I finally found it.
Just to set the stage here, Isser Harel was the former Director of the Mossad (1952 to 1963), the famous (or infamous, depending on who is asked) Israeli Secret Service about which little is known. For understandable reasons, they shroud themselves in secrecy, and there are very few opportunities for people on the outside to get a glimpse into its inner workings, which is precisely what this book provides. Naturally, the afore-mentioned agreement still remains between the reader and the author.
This work of non-fiction is the account of the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann, a Nazi war criminal whose name often came up at the Nuremberg trials, identified as the main engineer of the Holocaust, being tasked with the macabre logistics of genocide. He eluded capture at the end of the war, and like many of his kin, fled abroad in hopes of disappearing forever.
On their hand, Israel never forgot nor forgave the unspeakable crimes committed against the Jewish people, and without advertising it they kept on working towards finding and capturing Eichmann, with the idea of making him stand trial in Israel before the entire world. However, it took fifteen years until news on his possible location came through.
This is where the book starts, in 1960, with the first tentative identification of Eichmann, made by a blind man no less. From there on out we see the operation unfolding in chronological order, with every step and consideration detailed until its very conclusion. In the process, an invaluable and extremely rare window is opened not only into the inner workings of the Mossad, but also the inner workings of the people serving the organization.
The Gold Mine in The House on Garibaldi Street
Secret Service agents-turned-authors certainly isn’t a new phenomenon, with prominent figures such as Ian Fleming and Christopher Lee having found quite a bit of success once they took up the pen. However, the amount of information we can garner from their works varies heavily from one individual to the next, and more often than not when I’m done with a non-fictional work of espionage I’m still plagued with more than a few questions bound to go unanswered.
The first thing I noticed while I was reading this book was that Isser Harel successfully anticipated any and all questions I might have had as the reader. Naturally, there are secrets even he cannot divulge a decade and a half after the operation (the book was first published in 1975), but for the most part he truly does strive to fill any blank he is legally allowed to.
I especially enjoyed his extremely detailed approach when explaining every single step of the operation, even taking the time to describe seemingly small tasks, such as car rentals, and explaining their great importance to the mission. He made it quite clear how every single little facet of the operation mattered considering its magnitude and importance for the country, how success hinged on their quasi-superhuman diligence.
Speaking of “them”, while the author doesn’t reveal the real names of the people who participated in the operation, he does provide us not only with detailed background information about each and every one of them, but also takes it upon himself to portray their personalities, at least as he remembered and assessed them. Very quickly, these people turn from faceless drones into relatable human beings whose motivations lend them an air of true nobility.
If I were to compare it with most other works in this genre, at least the ones I’ve read, then I would venture to say this is one of the most factually-loaded books one could hope to find, especially in regards to a Secret Service little is known about overall. I honestly believe that anybody interested in the topic can stop reading the review here, because this factor alone makes it an extremely worthwhile addition to one’s collection.
The People Behind the Machine
Of course, with all of this being said, it doesn’t mean it’s the only reason to give this book a shot. For starters, Isser Harel‘s decision to weave the whole thing into a comprehensive and chronological narrative, depicting the events as they happened in the correct order, essentially makes it feel as if it’s progressing in the same manner a novel would.
There are more than a few moments where the author puts the narration on hold in order to add or clarify something, but on the whole, I would say it flows smoothly from start to finish and even builds up suspense, tension and excitement at certain moments. I should add, this in spite of the operation’s outcome being known in advance.
One reason Isser Harel was able to colour The House on Garibaldi Street in these exciting overtones is the quality of his prose (and by extension, the quality of the translation from Hebrew to English). While it might be a tad dry on occasion, it certainly fits the situation and more often than not he knows how to properly describe danger, to make its consequences truly palpable for the reader.
The other reason he was able to truly get me invested in the book was his ability to describe people. It is quite obvious Isser Harel was an extremely perceptive man and a super judge of character, understanding the people around him on a profound level few can hope to achieve. As we share in his understanding of his colleagues, we also become acquainted with them in our own right, and to put it simply, they’re a likeable, fascinating and honourable bunch, normal people one would never suspect of being part in such an operation.
Finally, I’d like to add that I believe the author made a good choice when he decided to include various passages about the atrocities committed by the Nazis to the people he worked with and their families. He successfully makes us understand why it’s so important for Eichmann to be captured alive to stand trial in Israel, giving us a start reminder not to leave war crimes in the past nor forget our history, lest we be doomed to repeat it.
|June 2 1975
The Final Verdict
The House on Garibaldi Street by Isser Harel is an absolutely fascinating and breathtaking account of the entire operation conducted to capture Adolf Eichmann, told straight by the man who directed it. Rife with facts one can’t find anywhere else and astute observations on human character, in my opinion it stands apart as one of the greatest works in non-fiction espionage.
If you’re interested in learning about the operation which led to Eichmann‘s capture, or are simply looking to get an insider view into the Mossad, then I firmly stand by the statement that this is one book you can’t afford to miss out on.
(1912 ― February 18, 2003)
Isser Harel was an Israeli spymaster who worked for Israel’s security and intelligence services, notably acting as the Director of the Mossad from 1952 to 1963. In his capacity as Director he oversaw the operation to capture Adolf Eichmann in Argentina and played a critical role in ensuring his safe transportation to Israel to stand trial.
He also published a number of works as an author, including: The Great Deceit, Jihad, The House on Garibaldi Street, The Anatomy of Treason and Operation Yossele.