BERLIN - "We brought honor to the State of Israel, of that there's no doubt," says Mickey Goldman, of the ceremony he attended last week at the House of the Wannsee Conference in Berlin, where in 1942 the Nazi leadership consolidated its plan to exterminate European Jewry.
The event was held to mark the 50th anniversary of the execution of one of the Holocaust's main architects, Adolf Eichmann on May 31, 1962. Goldman, 86, was one of the ceremony's guests of honor. He was a member of the special Israel Police unit, known as Bureau 06, that investigated and interrogated Eichmann after he'd been spirited from Argentina to Israel by the Mossad in 1960.
Goldman addressed the Wannsee House event in German, and read out sections of Eichmann's testimony at his trial, during which the presiding judges questioned Eichmann about his involvement in the Wannsee Conference.
"Eichmann twisted his answers, avoided taking any responsibility, and tried to convince the court that he was merely taking the minutes," recalls Goldman.
Among the documents Goldman uncovered during his investigation was a letter that Germany's railway director sent to his superiors, stating that on July 22, 1942 - six months after the Wannsee Conference - trains began carrying thousands of Jews from Warsaw to Treblinka, and from the ghetto in Przemysl, Poland to the extermination camp at Belzec.
In his address at Wannsee House, Goldman spoke about three passengers on one of those trains. "On July 26, 1942, my 17th birthday, my parents and my 10-year-old sister were put on a train to Belzec. I never saw them again," he said. "The trains on which these Jews, including my parents, were transported, bore the name of the Jewish affairs department at Gestapo headquarters in Berlin, which was headed by Eichmann."
A year after his family was sent to their deaths, Goldman was sent to Auschwitz, also on trains sent at Eichmann's command. He managed to survive the forced labor and escaped during a death march, finding refuge with a Polish family.
After the liberation Goldman volunteered for the Soviet Army, was wounded in battle, ended up in a displaced persons camp in Germany and traveled to Palestine on an illegal immigration boat in 1947. The boat was seized en route by the British and he was held in a Cypriot detention camp until after the state's founding. Upon his arrival to Israel, he enlisted in the Israel Police.
Goldman's testimony at Eichmann's trial, in which he told his own story of survival, shook the nation deeply. He recalled once being beaten 80 times by the Nazi commander of the Przemysl labor camp; but, he said, the worst blow of all was "the 81st blow" - the fact that there were Israelis who did not believe his story and those of other survivors.
In 1991, after the commander of the Przemysl camp, Josef Schwammberger, was captured in Argentina, Goldman testified against him in the Stuttgart regional court. Schwammberger was sentenced to life imprisonment and died in prison in 2004.
Bureau 06's investigation of Eichmann lasted nine months, and was handled by 14 investigators; Goldman is one of only three still alive. Each investigator was assigned a different geographic region from which to gather incriminating material. Goldman was given Poland, the Soviet Union and the Baltic states.
"To this day I remember how Eichmann never stopped lying, and tried to prove that he was a small cog in the wheels of the killing machine; that he was only following orders out of loyalty to his flag and his fuhrer," Goldman says. But the police were able to refute all of Eichmann's claims, one by one.
"We found many documents with his signature, in which he wrote, 'I've decided' to do this or that. So he didn't only receive orders, he also issued them," said Goldman. "We proved that he was personally involved in trying to find every last Jew that could be found in any corner of Europe. He was fanatical about his efforts to send every Jew to the death camps or to the pits, wherever they could be killed."
The investigators also found that Eichmann had personally visited murder sites in Minsk, Kovno and Auschwitz.
The first time Goldman sat in the interrogation room, he made sure to wear short sleeves so that Eichmann could see the number tattooed on his arm.
"I looked at his face, and though he didn't dare say anything, he looked a little sad, or something," Goldman recalls. "I assume he was wondering to himself how I managed to escape his clutches."
After Eichmann was sentenced to death, Goldman was one of two witnesses sent by the police to be present at the Nazi's hanging, and later at his cremation, on May 31, 1962. "After that, we went out to sea on a police boat, crossed the border of Israel's territorial waters, and overturned the urn that held Eichmann's ashes, dispersing him on the waves," Goldman recalls.
Goldman left the Israel Police after the execution and went to work for the Jewish Agency. Today he volunteers for various institutions. Among other things, he is a member of Yad Vashem's Committee for the Righteous Among the Nations.
"There, in that committee, you see the opposite of what happened during the Holocaust - the people who saved Jews," Goldman says. "To a certain extent, it creates a balance."
Beth Hatefutsoth in Tel Aviv is currently staging an exhibition on the Eichmann capture called "Operation Finale - The Story of the Capture of Eichmann." The exhibition, which opened in February, was put together with the cooperation of the Mossad.
Goldman contributed a photograph of himself standing next to Shalom Weiss, a Mossad agent who helped forge the documents used by Israeli kidnappers to get in and out of Argentina. The two lived in the same Tel Aviv building, but only after Weiss' death did Goldman learn of his friend and neighbor's involvement in the case in which he, too, played a role.