Friday, April 29, 2011

Yom HaShoah: 10 good reasons to never forget

It's Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts. Today I offer a few reasons why we need recall the horrors of the past.

It’s been over six decades since the monstrous work of the Nazis was fully revealed to the World. The bleak days of World War II are a fading memory for many, but the Jewish community continues to recall and honor the six million Jews lost in the Holocaust.

One special day, Yom HaShoah, has been set aside to honor the dead, the survivors, the martyrs and heroes. It will be observed here in the Land of Cotton on Sunday with several community-sponsored programs. Here are 10 reasons why you might want to attend one of the observances or, at the very least, spend a few moments in quiet reflection.

1. To honor the 6 million
To remember the 5 million non-Jewish victims
3. To mourn the 1.5 million Jewish children murdered
4. To recall the 5,000 Jewish communities wiped out across Eastern Europe
5. To offer thanks for the 304,500 Jews who managed to emigrate from Germany before it was too late to escape
6. To salute the citizens of Denmark who managed to ferry 7,800 Jews to safety In Sweden
7. To praise the 22,211 people and groups considered “Righteous among the Nations,” the term used by the State of Israel to describe non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from extermination
8. To take note of the 1,668 synagogues – virtually every shul in Germany – destroyed or damaged on Kristallnacht
9. To marvel at the grit and determination of the 250,000 Jews housed in Displaced Person camps across Europe following the war
10. To applaud the bravery of the 30,000 Jews who managed to join partisan groups across Eastern Europe to battle the invading Nazis


Several years ago I visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s world-class Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Moments after walking through the children’s memorial there, a profoundly moving experience that recalls the 1.5 million youngsters murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators, I stumbled onto a group of Israeli soldiers.

They had just exited the memorial also. Inexplicably, they were joking around, laughing and chatting. I found myself getting angry. But after a moment’s reflection, it seemed to me there was something redemptive about the scene and the young soldiers’ behavior.

In a fashion I still find difficult to articulate, the young Israelis seemed part of a chain, one additional link that includes the horror of the Holocaust and establishment of the State of Israel, ancient wars and prophesies, the patriarchs and cosmic promises.

Just a few decades earlier, the fabric of the Jewish community seemed in shreds, six million Jews slaughtered across Eastern Europe, millions more homeless and wandering about in search of a place to call home. All of that has changed and the laughing soldiers, it seemed to me, were the Jewish people’s victory and future, and I realized I felt comfort in their presence.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Matzo madness: Clean up crumbs, get a laxative

Just a few more hours and I’ll be off my matzo diet for another year. It’s been a challenge once again, finding ways to enjoy the crumbly stuff and finding ways to keep my, ah, system from clogging up.

In the last week I’ve eaten matzo with butter, jam and jellies – all kosher for Passover, natch. I caved and tried matzo based cereals, pasta, cakes and cookies; matzo brei, matzo turnovers, and matzo covered in chocolate. Mostly I’ve been nibbling on plain matzo. Truth to tell, for a week once a year, it’s not bad!

In fact, sticking to the dietary laws of Passover – aside from the religious and spiritual benefits – goes a long way in helping me appreciate the good stuff available the rest of the year. Given my efforts to stay away from sugar and carbs, I won’t be ending the holiday with a treat from Dunkin’ Donuts this year. A nice piece of whole wheat bread, however, is floating about in my day dreams at the moment and will serve nicely to reintroduce me to the joys of leavened goods.

I’m also hoping bread and other sugary goodies will go a long way to unplugging my digestive system and once again introduce my gut to the concept of “going on demand”. I have a theory that the Children of Israel managed to easily conquer Canaan because they were cosmically angry after wandering about for 40 years in a constipated funk.

That’s a little bit of info you’ll probably not find in the Torah. Such rabbinic wisdom can be found in the Talmud, however, buried in the little studied tractate Oy Gevalt wherein Yankele asks Moshe, “Why does matzo make some people constipated?” Moshe responds: “Matzo doesn’t make some people constipated … it makes everyone constipated!”

And on that humorous note, all I can add is Chag Sameach and remember, the clock is ticking!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Humanitarian or just another con man?

Greg Mortenson, the philanthropist and author best known for his memoir, Three Cups of Tea, has hit a rocky patch. Last week, 60 minutes took a hard look at some of the details Mortenson offers up in his book and how he’s been spending the money his writing and non-profit organization, the Central Asia Institute, has generated in recent years.

The news isn’t good. It turns out that much of the riveting memoir, detailing his humanitarian work in Pakistan and Afghanistan, is fiction. Worse, it appears little of the money raised by his book and non-profit actually makes it to those countries to aid in the building of schools.

A year or so after Three Cups of Tea was published, Mortenson visited the Land of Cotton and I was asked to introduce him at a talk and book-signing event sponsored by the Jewish community center. The book was receiving rave reviews and Mortenson was clearly on his way to becoming a pop culture icon.

I arrived at the venue early. Mortenson was flying in from another event and was running late. When he finally arrived I was initially underwhelmed. Mortenson was wearing khaki pants and a wrinkled dress shirt, lugging about a satchel filled with notes and a change of clothes, and a computer that held the stuff of his talk.

We chatted briefly and he said he needed to find a washroom to clean up a bit before his presentation. He was soft spoken, self-deprecating and, at the time, seemed just a little naïve. There was an “aw shucks” quality about him that appeared genuine, yet slightly at odds with his growing popularity.

All that changed when he began speaking and it became clear that Mortenson was a man on a mission. He spoke with confidence and vigor, tossing out facts and figures that detailed a world in distress, filled with men, women and children doomed to live out their lives in poverty and misery. Yet there was hope and he had a plan.

Mortenson, it turned out, was a born storyteller and quickly captivated the audience with snippets of his early life and accounts of his memorable experiences as he went about turning his dreams into reality. Basically, his hope was to use education to help better the lives of the youngsters in the villages he stumbled across in his travels.

I think the facts and figures that Mortenson detailed and the conditions he found in Pakistan and Afghanistan were accurate. It’s the dangerous and poignant personal twists he added to the telling that’s gotten him into trouble.

At the heart of his book is a heartwarming story of how the simple mountain villagers in Korphe, Pakistan saved his life; his plans to return to the village to build a school to thank the community, and the problems – including being kidnapped by the Taliban – he overcomes to make it all happen. Nice story. But apparently it’s all a lie!

There are also some serious questions being aired about the millions of dollars he’s raised in the last several years, ostensibly to build schools across the region. It seems little money is making it to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Mortensen, who now travels with a full entourage of agents and aides, has had little to say about the matter. In only five years or so it would seem that his goals have changed and getting rich is now at the top of his list.

I like to think that all he wrote and talked about so passionately in the year or two after the publishing of Three Cups of Tea wasn’t just a con; that he actually believed in helping others and cared about the young people he had met. For an instant, back there in the fading haze of the past, his words seemed true. In the light of day, however, he’s looking like just another snake oil salesman.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Burgers, beer and babes -- oh my!

The idea was to get together with some old chums, colleagues from that place with the printing press where we all once worked. My friend Bolly took care of the logistics and the plan was to meet at a Macaroni Grill – boring, bland, but certainly predictable – out here in the northern ’burbs.

The problems – and fun, I guess – started when I arrived at the designated spot and found that the ho-hum Italian restaurant had been replaced with something called The Tilted Kilt! A moment later I spotted my friends standing next to the Kilt’s greeter, everyone waiting for me. Bolly, Butch and Charlie were wearing a smile. The greeter was wearing, well, not much.

The Tilted Kilt, it turns out, is what happens if you take a neighborhood pub and smash it up with a soft-core gentleman’s club. It features and assortment of fried goodies, sandwiches and salads – the ubiquitous fare available at dozens of other chains. What sets The Tilted Kilt apart is the nearly nekkid wait staff.

Waitresses, btw, are called cast members! Go figure. They walk about in plaid halter tops and micro mini-skirts, girl-school stockings and Mary Jane shoes. Along with the tang of fries, chili and beer, sex hangs heavily in the air.

Check out the pub’s website and you learn that the restaurant is in the business of selling “fun” and an “effortless escape” for all its guests. It must be a generational thing, but I thought restaurants were in the business of selling food. And if I want an “effortless escape”, I’ll go to a movie or take a walk.

Randy or Brandy or Candy was our cast member / waitress. She had long blonde hair and blue eyes that sparkled when she smiled. She also had a dragon tattoo that wound itself around her belly, across her back, then dipped into regions I’ll never explore. I was embarrassed for her.

I ordered a house salad and a cup of chili. The food was okay, as was the service. The only real problem came when it was time to leave. I didn’t know if I was suppose to leave a tip on the table or fold up a few dollars and stuff it all into her stockings.

I’m thinking the next time I get together with my friends that we have lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, a soup and salad franchise in our little corner of the world. The only thing at all sexy about the restaurant is its name and the all-you-can-eat dessert bar. A brownie, topped with ice cream and chocolate syrup is the sort of “fun” I’m willing to pay for and about the only “effortless escape” I’m interested in when eating lunch.

Friday, April 15, 2011

How much do you know about Passover?

It’s Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts. Today, just in time for Passover, I offer a little holiday treat.

Passover, the Festival of Unleavened Bread, celebrates the deliverance of the Children of Israel from Egyptian enslavement over 3,000 years ago. The story has stood the test of time. The holiday, which begins at sunset on Monday, is unquestionably the most observed religious holiday by Jews in America.

Highlights of the Passover story, including characters and events that have become part of Western culture, are examined in the quiz below. Unless otherwise noted, each correctly answered question is worth 10 points. Let me know how you do.

1. Most everyone knows that Moses was the man chosen by God to deliver the Children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. But who was the man God said would accompany Moses, and what was this man’s primary mission?

2. The Hebrews are referred to in the Torah as the Children of Israel. Why?

3. The Children of Israel weren’t always disliked and enslaved by the Egyptians. In fact, when they were the new guys on the block, they were honored by being presented a parcel of choice land to inhabit. What was this land called?

4. Why were the Hebrews enslaved? Bonus points. Take an extra five points if, within 10 years, you know the number of years the Hebrews were slaves in the Land of Egypt.

5. Moses used a series of plagues to force the release of the Hebrews. Most everyone knows that there were 10. But how many can you remember? Give yourself one point for each one named.

6. The Hebrews were instructed to do this during the last plague. Hint: It involved a brush, a lamb, little artistic talent, and the name of Passover is linked to what occurred.

7. Along with the spoils of Egypt, the Hebrews carted off the bones of one of their ancestors when they began the trek to the Promised Land. Who was the ancestor and why was he taken from Egypt?

8. What did God do to help the Children of Israel when they found themselves trapped between the Red Sea and the might of the Egyptian army?

9. In a rush to leave Egypt while the getting was good, the Children of Israel did not take time to allow their bread to rise. This special bread is still eaten by observant Jews today during the festival of Passover. What is it called?

10. This meal is the focus of the Passover observance, taking its Hebrew name from the carefully constructed order in which the meal and accompanying ceremony are played out.

11. The Passover meal is filled with symbolic food and rituals which are meant to remind Jews of the sadness and pain of captivity and the joy of freedom. Give yourself two points for each of the items you can identify below:

A. This vegetable, usually green, such as parsley, symbolizes spring and rebirth.
B. This is a mixture of chopped apples, nuts, wines and spices, meant to symbolize the mortar that the Hebrew slaves used to make bricks.
C. This is a bitter herb, usually ground horseradish, symbolizing the bitterness of slavery.
D. A roasted egg, symbol of springtime, fertility and the festival sacrifice offered by the ancient Hebrews at The Temple in Jerusalem.
E. A roasted bone, symbol of the Passover sacrifice.

12. This question, the first of four questions examining and explaining the significance of Passover, is generally asked by the youngest child. What is the question?

1. Moses raised all sorts of objections when told by God to travel to Egypt and free the Hebrews. Among the problems mentioned by Moses was his inability to speak. So God said he would have Moses’ brother Aaron go with him and serve as his spokesman.

2. Because they are the descendants of Jacob, who was renamed Israel after battling with an angel.

3. Goshen.

4. After a generation or so, many Egyptians became fearful of the Hebrews, worried that they might take up arms with another foreign power and make war against Egypt. So they pleaded with Pharaoh to enslave the Children of Israel. Although biblical scholars disagree on the exact number of years of enslavement, most agree that it was about 210 years.

5. The 10 plagues, from first to last, are: Blood, frogs, vermin, wild beasts, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, darkness, and death of the first born.

6. The Hebrews were told to brush lamb’s blood on the doorposts of their homes so the angel of death would know to “pass over” their dwellings.

7. Joseph. He asked that his body be removed from Egypt and buried alongside his father, Jacob, in Canaan.

8. God caused a strong east wind to part the waters.

9. Matzo

10. The Seder

11. A. Karpas B. Haroset C. Maror D. Beitzah E. Zeroa

12. Why is this night different from all other nights?

under 50: If you have a Jewish Bible it’s probably being used as a doorjam.
50-120: Congratulations! You managed to stay awake in Sunday school.
above 120: If you’re not already a rabbi, you’re thinking about it.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Do you need a license to work in the yard?

You just can’t be too rich, too thin, or own too many extension cords. I’ll explain.

A year or so ago I got the bright idea that it would be fun to, ah, start doing my own yard work. It’s an opportunity to get outside, back with nature. I could tap into that part of me that I’ve pushed away for years, that guy who loves to play in the dirt and get his hands a little dirty.

So I grabbed Miss Wendy and we headed over to that warehouse place, filled with just about everything you need to keep a yard spruced up and shiny. We bought a lawn mower, trimmer and hedger, weed whacker and blower, grass seed, fertilizer, potting soil and a bunch of plants.

I also bought an extension cord for the hedger, long enough when coupled with a cord I had bought years ago to reach just about any spot in my yard – front, sides and way into the back. We’re talking 150 feet of the stuff, enough cord to whack away at the hedges anywhere on my property.

Did I mention that you just can’t be too rich, too thin, or own too many extension cords? Why yes, I think I did. The problem is that when I get into my hedging zone I have a tendency to focus on the foliage and not on the cord. That’s what I was doing Wednesday afternoon when I caught sight of a spark arcing in my direction.

The crackling sound only lasted an instant. After all, once the hedger cuts through the cord there’s no more juice to keep things up and running. That’s the good news. The not so good news is my new extension cord was now in two pieces.

This, ah, has happened before. In fact, since Wendy and I bought that first 100-foot cord last spring, I’ve managed to cut my way through not one, not two, but three cords in less than a year. I’ve spliced a few back into shape, only to butcher them again. Truth to tell, I’m probably not the guy you want handling power tools around your family.

I’m thinking seriously of replacing the electrical hedger I have now with a gas-powered model. If you happen to be around my neck of the woods and smell smoke, call 911.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rules have changed, but hametz still has to go

Time is running out and I still have lots of hametz to finish off before Passover begins next week. I imagine the lovely Miss Wendy and I will be trashing much of the prohibited stuff, but I also think with just a little planning I can eat my way through the pantry and fridge.

I can feast on frozen waffles, toast and cereal for breakfast; sandwiches – heavy on the, ah, bread – for lunch and a euphonic and tasty blend of pastas for dinner. Let’s not forget snacks and dessert – graham crackers and chocolate chip cookies; weight-watcher brownies and ice cream; jellies, jams and cola all laced with high-fructose corn syrup. Burp!

Then again, perhaps I shouldn’t use my gut as a trash can. Given that I’m doing a pretty good job of turning my back on all things sugary and loaded with carbs, it’s probably better that I stick with salads, yogurt, veggies and protein – moderate portions of fish, chicken and red meat. The hametz, what little is still around, even the sugarless stuff, will either be packed up and tossed or sold and stored.

Then we’ll be set, time once again to focus on matzo and the lovely new things that kosher food manufacturers are producing these days to make Passover palatable. Once upon a time you had to suffer a bit for eight days, recalling those momentous days thousands of years ago when the Children of Israel, with a little Divine help and guidance, broke free from Egyptian slavery.

The Hebrew slaves were in such a hurry to skedaddle once Moses finished plaguing Pharaoh that we’re told they didn’t even have time to let their bread rise before baking it. The finished product, flat and tasteless, is what we call matzo today. It remains flat and mostly tasteless and, along with a few additional dietary laws, informs what observant Jews can eat during the holidays.

And what’s the penalty for cheating and enjoying a piece of bread, donut or slice of cake? Those souls, the observant believe, are lost to the people Israel. Yikes.

But I digress. These days you can, ah, skip your cake and eat it too! All those things that are prohibited – cereal, pasta, cakes, cookies and soda – are now produced in ways that allow them to be consumed while following the letter of the law if not exactly the spirit of the holiday.

There use to be something special about not being able to eat your favorite breakfast cereal for a week or so, ignoring Coca-Cola for a few days and being forced to use macaroons instead of Oreo cookies to dunk in your milk. Yech! If you’re willing to pay the price, however, these days you can buy just about anything made special for Passover.

It’s not exactly as tasty as the stuff filled with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. But it’s close. And if it’s a matter of keeping your soul connected with the Children of Israel when you’re jonesing for a sugary hit, maybe it’s worth the price. Just make sure you read the fine print when checking out at the market and make sure you have a good lawyer when it’s time to check in with the guy sporting the big “G” on his sweatshirt!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Beautiful day filled with joy, sadness -- and light

The lovely Miss Wendy and I spent much of Sunday enjoying the gifts of spring. All is abloom here in the Land of Cotton, a colorful mosaic of dogwood trees and towering pines, azaleas and crape myrtles, tulips, impatiens and zinnias – and that’s just my front yard!

We got off to an early start, strolling along the walking path that parallels the Chattahoochee River; sharing the turf and beautiful day with bikers and joggers, fitness freaks and families; friends, lovers and solitary souls all looking about, watching one another watch one another.

We then zipped over to Alon’s for a leisurely late brunch. It seemed a few dozen other folks had the same idea at just about the same time we did. But the service was quick and efficient, the food plentiful and delicious and the ambiance upbeat and cosmopolitan.

The special spring vibe I was feeling could have stalled out once my lawn mower kicked in later in the afternoon. I was back to whacking away at weeds, a chore that can easily turn the sweetest day sour. Spread out, it would seem, as far as I could see was a ratty carpet of dandelions and crabgrass, moss and clover. My mood was growing dark and then I spotted my neighbors.

Ed was getting into his car, his wife Gloria hugging another neighbor from across the street before climbing into the passenger seat. Wendy walked out onto our driveway, looked over at Ed and Gloria, then looked my way. Neither of us said a word but there was much being communicated – a lifted eyebrow, shrug of the shoulder, then a casual shifting of the arms and hands.

Together we began walking next door, sorting out what we might say. Gloria was diagnosed with a stage-4 brain tumor just before Christmas. She has been undergoing treatment at Emory. The news recently from her doctors has been cloaked in that language you hate to hear. The very best they’ve been able to offer is a less than hopeful momentary reprieve.

So Ed and Gloria are off to Chapel Hill, chasing the possibility that Gloria might take part in an onerous clinical study. It’s the sort of thing you do when there really isn’t anything else left to do. Wendy and I wished Gloria all the best and let her know that we’ll be thinking of her and that, of course, she has all our prayers. There was silence and tears. I like to think also there was a moment of comfort.

We said our goodbyes and they drove away. I returned to my puttering lawn mower and looked back across my yard. It shimmered warmly underneath the afternoon sun, a field grown darkly green, lush with promises of tomorrow. The words of the poet turn out to be true.

“We cannot hold a torch to light another's path without brightening our own." And so it goes.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

What to do when life turns to a pile of #hit!

Back in the black and white days of early TV, I recall watching a drama about a man slowly driving his wife crazy. His plan was simple, yet brilliant. He would make sure that all the small things in daily life – phone service, the toaster, a lamp and radio – would all break down.

Each little problem was easily dealt with, but collectively all the problems became overwhelming. When the wife, already jittery and on edge, glanced at a clock – a priceless family heirloom – and saw that it, too, was on the fritz, she went bonkers.

I mention all that to add context and drama, a foreshadowing of one wild and crazy day here recently in the Land of Cotton. Over the weekend the sun peeked out and warmed this little corner of the world and the weeds took note. Spring has yet to brush me with its soothing warmth, but my yard is already a dysfunctional mess of crabgrass, ivy, moss and dandelions.

While I was on my hands and knees, digging out the problem, the lovely Miss Wendy was off enjoying the delights of a wedding shower. She arrived home early; a bit unnerved after her ancient, but trusty sedan was crunched while she partied.

That evening, flipping around the tube for a little distraction, I noticed that the sound was, well, mute on several stations. I raced around the house, checking out the other TVs and they all worked fine. It would seem that the tube in the upstairs den was on the fritz.

Recapping, for those of you who’ve lost track, there’s a bed of weeds in my front yard that I euphemistically call a lawn – STRIKE ONE; a crunched car in my garage – STRIKE TWO; and a dying TV in the den – STRIKE THREE. I guess that means I’m out! That wail you hear off in the distance is simply a primal scream. It’s all okay, ah, really; I mean really.

There is some good news. Once I mowed the lawn, the grass and weeds are at least the same height and if you squint and the sun is not directly overhead the, ah, lawn sort of looks okay. Meanwhile, an insurance adjuster finally touched base this afternoon and said a colleague will drop by in a few days and they’ll be providing the cash to un-crunch Miss Wendy’s car.

And the TV? I searched “what do you do when the sound doesn’t work on some TV stations” at Well, duh, you hit the menu button on the remote and play with the SAP button. I don’t know the difference between sap and a good bowl of soup, but apparently I did something right because all the stations work fine now. Go figure!

Life, it turn# out, i# ab#olutely grand! Well, darn, the “#” key on my computer doe#n’t #eem to be working. Oh, #hit!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

My low-fat Greek answer to ho-hum yogurt

I’ve been ignoring sugar, carbs and fat for the last several months, an attempt to regain my boyish figure and boyish health. I never really paid that much attention to what I was eating, but obviously it was all loaded with sugar, carbs and fat! Now bits of that stuff are doing backstrokes in my blood and my doctor says it’s time I change my diet.

So eating has been a challenge recently, especially finding food that is both good for me and good tasting. My most recent discovery is a little gift from Greece, a perfect solution for my long-standing addiction to ice cream and other sweets.

Yogurt has been around forever. It’s one of those trendy things that’s been a staple in Europe for years. In its simplest form it’s bland and disgusting, a pasty concoction that tastes like puke. Many foodie purists continue downing such glop with only a few nuts and fresh fruit to provide a little punch. Go figure! On this side of the pond, it’s been gussied up with sugar and flavorings and has become almost as popular – especially in its frozen form – as ice cream.

The problem is that manufacturers don't know when to stop with the sugar. They're making the yogurt sweet and tasty – all the better to grab our money. My concern – yours, too – is that most popular brands are now filled with the stuff I'm trying to ignore. Here's the good news. There are some decent options, supremely tasty and velvety smooth without all the sugary baggage.

Fage (pronounced fa-yeh) would be at the top of my list, a product offered up by the Gods of Greece – oh, perhaps a little overstated and, btw, there’s a brand actually called Greek Gods. Fage is sort of like soft-serve ice cream – think Dairy Queen – and packed with nutritional value.

It’s one of several new brands of Greek yogurt – the others that come readily to mind are Chobani and Oikos – that have been taking over shelf space in recent months at local specialty shops and markets in my little corner of the world. Greek, it would seem, is now the oh-so trendy way to go when thinking yogurt.

There really is a difference. Mostly it has to do with how the product is manufactured. Unlike the fruity stuff that's filled with sugar and watery whey, Greek yogurt is strained. The finished product is solid, smooth, filled with protein and a sour taste.

The numbers – carbs, sugar and calories – shout this is the way to go. The taste, however, is tough for those of us with a sweet tooth. It’s a problem easily solved. Fage can be mixed with a wide assortment of goodies – jellies and jams, nuts and cereal for crunch, honey or splenda for additional sweetness. In just minutes the creamy lusciousness of the yogurt and the tasty sweetness of the mixes offer up a euphonic blend good enough for a god – a Greek God!

Next week I’ll be detailing how I’m prepared to replace French fries with baked zucchini strips. Yikes! Stay tuned.

Friday, April 1, 2011

‘Hunting Eichmann’ gets us behind the scenes

It’s Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts. Today we revisit the Holocaust and one of the Nazis responsible for its horror.

Mention the Holocaust and several names come quickly to mind. Adolf Hitler was at the top of the Nazi killing machine, opening the door on pure evil and madness that led to the mass murder of six million Jews.

Right on his heels and at his beck and call was a bunch of infamous thugs, including Hermann Göring, Hitler’s designated successor, commander of the Luftwaffe and one of the early architect’s of the Holocaust; Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (the Reich Main Security Office that included the Gestapo) and another early architect of the Holocaust; Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and chief of the German Police; and Josef Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death, a bully and sadist who often was the final arbiter on who would live and who would die at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the Nazi death camps.

And then there was Adolf Eichmann, a very small fish in a very large and fetid pond. The SS-Obersturmbannführer was head of the Department for Jewish Affairs in the Gestapo, charged with the creation and implementation of the “Final Solution”.

While most of his bosses, all virulent anti-Semites, set the stage for the extermination of millions of Jews, it was Eichmann and his team of bureaucrats who figured out the logistics – rounding up of entire communities, creation of ghettos and camps, scheduling of transports and collection of contraband. Despite his claims that he was simply following orders, Eichmann was a mass murderer who lacked any sort of moral compass. It’s quite possible, mesmerized and nurtured by the power and decadence of Nazi Germany, that by war’s end he was a full-blown psychopath.

Eichmann relished his work and took delight as his intricate plans played out across Eastern Europe. Millions of Jews were ripped from their homes and villages, tossed into crowded ghettos and camps, the vast majority ultimately murdered and buried in mass graves or cremated and turned to ash.

Most of us, even those with only a casual knowledge of World War II and the Holocaust, know that Eichmann managed to escape from Europe after allied forces defeated Hitler and his Nazi war machine. He made his way to South America and managed to hide away for 15 years before Israeli agents kidnapped him near his home outside of Buenos Aires.

In a daring, some might argue heroic operation, Eichmann was then flown halfway around the world to Israel where he was held as a war criminal and tried for crimes against the Jewish people and humanity. He was found guilty and hanged.

Novels and biographies, documentaries, TV specials and dramas have been written and aired about Eichmann, his loathsome life and work, capture, trial and execution. I mention all this, a bit of windy preamble, to suggest it worth your time to check out a relatively new history on the topic, “Hunting Eichmann” by Neal Bascomb (Mariner Books, 388 pages).

Bascomb’s good work often reads like an intricate spy novel, filled with twists and turns that he managed to uncover after the release of groundbreaking new information. This lucky break – for Bascomb and his readers – is supported and fleshed out by hundreds of interviews and recently declassified documents.

The basic story hasn’t changed, but now readers have the opportunity to take a peek behind the facts. What we find offers up a troubling look into the crazed mind of Eichmann and, just as interesting, into the planning and execution of his capture by a feisty, still maturing intelligence agency – the Mossad.

The team of spies and their helpers were an eclectic blend of experienced agents and naïve, anxious volunteers. Bascomb reports it would take equal measures of chutzpah, steely resolve and expertise to accomplish their mission. They were also very lucky.

One agent, on his way to South America through Europe, forgot his alias when retrieving his passport from custom officials. Fortunately, he spotted the proper passport – he recognized its unique color – and simply pointed at it. Another agent, checking out Eichmann’s neighborhood, became distracted and drove his car into a ditch. Yet another group of agents were stopped by police as they drove near Eichmann’s home, but were not detained after telling the cops they were lost and looking for their hotel.

To their credit, however, the team managed to pay close attention to all the important details of the mission. Team members arranged and coordinated dozens of secret meetings, rented cars and safe houses, and successfully counterfeited passports, visas, identity cards and driver licenses. Their work was cosmically bland, painfully intense and emotionally draining.

For most of the Israelis, capturing Eichmann was not just another job. Their lives and that of their families were inextricably linked to the Holocaust. Tracking down one of the world’s most notorious Nazis was of profound significance to each of them personally and, as it would turn out, to the future of Israel.

Eichmann, meanwhile, comes across in Bascomb’s book as a failed megalomaniac, a toady bureaucrat who once held the power of life and death in his blood-soaked hands. During the war he lived in villas and mansions, had at least two mistresses and spent his evenings enjoying the spoils of victory.

Fifteen years after the thousand-year Reich was nothing more than a fading memory, Eichmann and his family were living in a wretched concrete shack in the middle of a desolate neighborhood with few amenities and no public utilities. If not completely shunned by the German expatriate community in Argentina, he was certainly ignored, perhaps pitied.

After years of looking over his shoulders and hiding from shadows, Eichmann was balding, bent and nearly broken. In a sense, Eichmann wasn’t so much executed by Israeli authorities as simply put out of his misery.

A footnote: After his execution on May 31, 1962 at a prison in Ramla, Israel, Eichmann was cremated in a specially designed furnace. His ashes were scattered at sea, beyond the territorial waters of Israel by an Israeli Navy Patrol boat, ensuring that no country would serve as his final resting place.