The importance of Operation Finale transcends any analysis of its cinematic significance.
While Operation Finale successfully recreates the work of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, in capturing Adolf Eichmann in Argentina 15 years after the end of World War II, the film will rip your heart out as it recreates Eichmann’s leadership under Hitler that resulted in the Holocaust. Ten million humans were summarily executed, six million of them Jews, and it encompasses a horrific story that resonates to this very day.
More to the point, how did a largely Christian nation like Germany tolerate the slaughter of men, women and children? As noted in Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s fantastic historical work Hitler’s Willing Executioners, the Holocaust happened only because ordinary Germans either participated in it or turned a blind eye to their nation’s killing fields. The importance of Operation is that it occasionally focuses on the execution of young mothers, fathers and their children in large pits where they were then buried as their executioners smiled and took pictures.
Before going further, let me note that my brother and I visited the Dachau Concentration Camp while visiting Munich during the 1974 Octoberfest. While the museum on the property will suck the wind out of your lungs, it is hard to describe the emotional reaction of walking through one of the remaining wretched buildings where Jewish inmates were confined. After forcing ourselves to look at the crematoriums, my brother and I decided that the most rewarding part of our experience was asking a local town resident for directions to the facility after we left our train. While their relatives did nothing despite the smell of burnt human flesh hovering over their small city, at least they are forced to relive it every day with visitors like ourselves.
Though the bulk of Operation focuses on Mossad’s undercover work in Argentina as they plotted a way to kidnap Eichmann and have him flown secretly back to Israel for trial, the film’s gravitational power flows from Mossad agent Peter Malkin’s reflection on the death of his young sister and her children at the hands of the Nazis. The very talented Oscar Isaac helps define Malkin’s unconsolable heartbreak over the loss of his sister, and it serves to remind us all of the agony inflicted on Jews who survived the Nazi purge.
As I watched Ben Kingsley’s remarkable performance as Adolf Eichmann, I couldn’t help but reflect on the reality that the racism that made the Holocaust acceptable permeates our country whether we like to admit it or not. While Eichmann was a married man who clearly loved his wife and two children, he had no problem witnessing the killing of thousands of Jews before going home to dinner. Was that any different from the fact that our American ancestors in the Antebellum South sanctioned slavery for centuries while simultaneously picnicking with their families after going to church on Sunday where ministers used the Bible to justify their barbaric act?
Furthermore, was the reality that thousands of black American citizens were hung and burned across our country while crowds watched and cheered simply a different type of Holocaust American style? While many Americans today champion the importance of family, how is it that many of those same Americans accept the separation of Hispanic children from their parents on our southern border?
As you wrestle with Mr. Makin’s attempt to find a way to say goodbye to his sister and find some peace in the world, tears will likely flow down your cheeks as they did mine. While drying your eyes you have to remember that a Christian country supported the demonic force of Hitler that lead to the Holocaust and we can no longer allow its poisonous germs to take root and prosper in our country.