The Argentina Journal

By Schultz, Deborah | Shofar, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

The Argentina Journal


Schultz, Deborah, Shofar


The Argentina Journal, by Peter Z. Malkin. New York: VWF Publishing, 2002. 142 pp. $90.00 as part of a two-volume set.

In the Argentina Journal, Peter Z. Malkin combines words and images to record the capture of Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires in 1960. The complex circumstances of the capture, combined with Malkin's own family background, are reflected in the often intensely worked images. Malkin was born into a Jewish family as Zvi Malchin in British Palestine and grew up in Zolkiewka, in eastern Poland. In 1936 he returned with his parents and part of his family to Palestine, while his sister, her husband, and their children remained in Poland with many other family members, all of whom died in the Holocaust. In Palestine, aged 12, Malkin became involved with the Jewish underground movement, and, after independence, was invited to join the new Israeli Secret Service (which later became Mossad) as an explosives expert. With his expertise in martial arts and disguises, Malkin was selected to be part of the commando ream to go to Buenos Aires to capture Eichmann.

On the way to Argentina, Malkin bought a travel guide to the country, and during the weeks of the operation he covered the pages (each 17.4 by 11.6 cm) of the book with his thoughts and images in drawings and writings. For the black and white drawings he used pencil and ink; for the colored pages he mixed oils, pastels, pencils, dry watercolor, and make-up-the latter a perhaps unlikely material but which he had with him for use, if necessary, in disguising Eichmann on smuggling him out of Argentina. The materials thus intimately relate to the context in which the works were produced, adding to their symbolic resonance. The original printed text or image on the page shows through in places, and, in the Foreword, Adam Baruch refers to the comparable use of "printed ground" in the work of Joshua Neustein and Julian Schnabel, while pointing out that Malkin was unaware of their work at the time.

Malkin's role in Eichmann's capture would remain secret for twenty-five years; on returning to Israel he hid the journal in his mother's house. In 2002 it was published as a book, with color reproductions of the pages alongside additional notes and explanations. Malkin's images and writings range from observations of figures in public places in Buenos Aires to personal feelings and memories, particularly of his sister and her children. He writes, "I took the little red book with me wherever I went. No one could possibly have suspected that I related to it as my diary. During the day, I would sketch houses, and toward the evening, figures from the carnival celebrating Argentina's 150th anniversary of Independence. In the small hours of night, however, I depicted Eichmann, Nazis, personal memoirs, and members of my own family, as well as local people I encountered during my stay in Argentina. For four whole months, I filled the book with my colored drawings, continually revising."

The careful preparations for the capture of Eichmann are described in a straightforward way that nevertheless conveys the sense of tension. The context of Argentina's anniversary of Independence adds to this tension, as, apart from the celebratory carnivals, there was also political conflict in clashes between the Péronists and their opponents. Details such as being stopped by the police on the day of capture, or putting on a pair of gloves so as not to touch Eichmann directly, add to the sense of tension, which is also conveyed by the ever-present risk of failure. For, although the operation was well planned, it was not as seamless as it appeared from the outside. As Malkin later recalled, "The bringing of Eichmann to justice had been, in the end, less a model of crisp, military precision than a seat-of-the-pants adventure."

Mossad had also not fully thought through what would happen next. This seems surprising, given the long planning of the capture; however, as Malkin explains, "The truth of the matter is that when we decided to capture Eichmann, we had no idea how we would smuggle him our of Buenos Aires to Israel. …

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