The Good Assassin: How a Mossad Agent and a Band of Survivors Hunted Down the Butcher of Latvia

Stephan Talty. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-328-61308-0
Journalist Talty (Saving Bravo) revisits the 1965 assassination of Latvian war criminal Herbert Cukurs by Israeli secret agents in this brisk and dramatic history. Soon after German forces pushed the Soviet Army out of Latvia in 1941, Cukurs, a renowned aviator, became second-in-command of the Arajs Commandos, volunteer paramilitaries who assisted the S.S. in carrying out mass killings. Eyewitnesses describe Cukurs murdering women and young children, and supervising the liquidation of the Riga Ghetto, which sent nearly 30,000 Jews to their deaths. In 1946, he fled to Brazil and started a successful boat rental and sightseeing business. Despite lobbying by Latvian Holocaust survivors and Brazilian Jews, local police refused to take action against Cukurs, and by 1965 the statute of limitations for prosecuting Nazi war criminals was set to expire in West Germany. In a plan approved by the Israeli prime minister, Mossad agent Jacob Medad, who’d helped to capture Adolf Eichmann, disguised himself as an Austrian businessman, befriended Cukurs, and brought him to Uruguay, where a team of assassins killed him. According to Talty, international publicity over the case helped push German legislators to extend the statute of limitations (it was formally abolished in 1979). Talty efficiently mines archival records for vivid details and tracks the complexities of Medad’s undercover mission with flair. The result is a captivating and gruesome real-life spy thriller. (Apr.)
Reviewed on : 01/06/2020
Release date: 04/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-1-328-61885-6
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