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Saturday, October 4, 2008

Yehudit Nessyahu - spy woman who help capture Eichmann for the Mossad

Thiis is the story of a Mossad spy - one of these scary, horrible people of the international Jewish conspiracy, who are supposed to have horns and tails and be responsible for the 9-11 attacks and all other ills in the world.  
Yehudit Nessyahu  was born in Holland in 1925, to a religious Zionist family. When she was 3 years old, the family moved to Belgium, where her father was in charge of the distribution of "certificates" (immigration permits for Palestine), fund-raising and the purchase of arms for the Haganah.
Yehudit attended the Balfour School in Tel Aviv, joined the Bnei Akiva youth movement and studied philosophy and history at the Hebrew University. During her time there, she was active in Yavneh, a religious student group . During the War of Independence, she enlisted in the IDF, and when the war was over she returned to her studies. In 1956, at the urging of Baruch Duvdevani, the Jewish Agency's director of aliya, she joined Misgeret, a clandestine organization that handled the immigration of Jews from Morocco.
"It all started because of my father, who was the first Jewish Agency emissary in North Africa for illegal aliyah in 1942," says Tirza Ben-Haim, 50. "He disguised himself as a French officer and began organizing the aliyah. When he came to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco for the first time, the people were living in cave-like dwellings. He asked to see the representatives of the village, went into a house with them and told them, 'I came here from Palestine to organize you. It won't happen now, but just know that I'm here to organize you.' They said, 'Fine,' and kept on with the conversation and when he walked out of there, the whole village was already waiting with their possessions on their backs, ready to go to Palestine. Of course, it took some more years until the people from that village came to Israel," she smiles.
"Yehudit basically traveled there to help him on behalf of the Jewish Aency." What was her motivation? Was she attracted to clandestine activity? "No," says Ruthie Ben-Haim emphatically. "Her drive was Zionism, pure and simple. The Land of Israel, the Jewish People and the need to bring here as many Jews as possible."
 Nessyahu worked for about two and a half years to bring Moroccan Jews to Israel. In conversations with her nephew, Ben Davis, when he was preparing a "roots" project for school, she said that she had been in contact with members of the Moroccan police, from whom she sometimes received documents that she had to copy and then return. She would place the documents in a large shopping basket, hidden under various grocery items.
In Casablanca, she adopted the guise of a wealthy Dutchwoman from Indonesia. "In Morocco, she had a difficult problem because she wasn't supposed to be a Jew," continues Ben-Haim. "Her whole circle was non-Jews who ate pork and all kinds of treif. She was always religious and she said that sometimes, for days, since she couldn't eat anything else, she existed just on oranges, and that whenever one of the non-Jews took her out for a meal, she would say she was on a diet and could only eat salad. She was very strict about that."
But it wasn't always possible. "Sometimes you have to do things," says Ben-Haim. "When she needed to maintain her cover she would break a commandment. She didn't say exactly what she did, but when she had to, she ate pork. Everything was for the sake of the cause, for the Land of Israel and the Jewish People."
Eliezer Palmor of the Foreign Ministry, remembered that she told him that "on one of her missions to Morocco she almost gave herself away. In Europe they peel an orange the way you peel an apple, and she started peeling an orange in the special Israeli way: She cut off the top of the peel and sliced down the sides. As she was doing it, she caught herself and said, 'Oops, that's not right.'"
"That's a famous story," laugh the Ben-Haim sisters, recalling another anecdote that their aunt told them. "Sometime in the late 1950s she was at the airport in Alexandria. Someone suddenly appeared who knew her, from the university apparently, and shouted, 'Yehudit! What are you doing here? How are you?' and she, a little in shock, said, 'Um - you must be mistaken.' She said it was one of the most dangerous moments she ever had."
Near the end of the 1950s the activities of Misgeret were moved to the Mossad, and Nessyahu became a Mossad employee. Ephraim Halevy, the former Mossad chief, met her in 1961. He says he "doesn't like" the term "spy" and calls Nessyahu an "operative intelligence officer."
"She wasn't all that healthy. She had a serious eye disease, and despite this she performed with great courage," says Halevy. "There were women in such positions, but the number of women was relatively small compared to now. She wasn't a seductress and it wasn't the external physical aspects that caught people's interest, but she knew how to connect to people and gain their trust."
In 1960, Harel chose to include Nessyahu in the operation to capture Eichmann. In his book, "The House on Garibaldi Street," he called her "Dina Ron" and wrote: "She was chosen as a possible spouse on the assumption that she'd be able to manage the household for the days between Eichmann's capture and his transfer to Israel. She was new on the job, but had already taken part in a number of complicated operations. She was fluent in several languages, could effortlessly adopt different identities, and adapted without difficulty to whatever conditions she found herself in."
Minister Rafi Eitan, who was one of the commanders of the operation to capture Eichmann, said this week: "When I was the field commander, I was looking for a woman who could take on two identities and who had operational experience. I didn't know Yehudit before, Isser Harel introduced me to her. I found a woman who spoke a number of languages - Dutch, German and English - perfectly, and who looked Irish. She was just right for our needs."
"On the way [to Argentina] there was a problem with the plane and so I arrived 24 hours later than I was supposed to," Nessyahu wrote. "They'd arranged a number of meeting places and meeting times and told me that I'd meet with someone I knew, and so there was no need for passwords or identifying signs, as you usually have in clandestine activity. When I arrived in Buenos Aires, I went to one of the arranged meeting places and there I found Isser himself, who told me what the operation was and who this man was that we caught. That same day I moved into the house where we held him."
Nessyahu also wrote about Eichmann's capture before her arrival in Argentina: "When they 'took' him on the street, not far from his house, there was still a question about his identity, because none of the people who were directly involved in the operation knew him from before. We had pictures, but they were from his prime, in the SS uniform with a cap that hid half his face. In the intervening years that he'd been hiding in South America, he'd changed a lot and no one had actually seen him from close up. It was decided that this was the man and that they would 'take' him to a great extent on the basis of 'circumstantial evidence.' When they put him in the car, it was still necessary to conclusively identify him, to know that we really did take the right person. As soon as he was in the car, the doctor gave him an injection that caused mild disorientation, and the man who was responsible for determining his identity and who interrogated him during the days we were in the villa until the return home, called Eichmann's SS rank in the tone of a commander. Eichmann responded instinctively (and under the influence of the injection, of course. With that, the issue of identification was concluded as far as we were concerned."
Rafi Eitan, however, says that Eichmann was not given such an injection and that he was identified by his features and scars. He adds that Nessyahu and Mossad agent Yaakov Meidad were responsible for maintaining the apartments used by the Mossad in the operation. "She went out to do the shopping, appeared before the neighbors, took care of all the housekeeping and also helped us later in bringing him to Israel."
"I was the guy who could come in contact with foreign officials and, among other things, I rented the car that was used for the kidnapping," Meidad recounted this week. "I was supposed to look the part of her husband, we both kept up the house and she cooked and fed us, and Eichmann, kosher food. She was quiet. A good and intelligent girl."
Nessyahu wrote about Eichmann "There was a feeling that, after all, only a demonic, grandiose and fearsome personality could be responsible for sending hundreds of thousands of Jews to their death with one signature. There was a certain anxiety surrounding the encounter. Not because we were afraid of the man (After all, the situation had changed completely and he was in our hands), but we didn't know what to expect. After all, one doesn't easily meet with the Angel of Death's messenger on earth. There was an expectation of something dreadful, something grand and vast in its evil ...
"What we found was a pathetic little clerk who had no concept whatsoever of the historic significance of the deed. He just kept saying, 'I was only following orders,' 'I was just a small cog,' 'I never harmed a single person myself' and on and on.
"He realized right away that he was in the hands of the Israelis, even though we never admitted that at any point during the 10 days we were with him in the villa in the suburbs of Buenos Aires ... The whole time we were in the house in Buenos Aires, we never called him by name. We couldn't bring ourselves to pronounce the accursed name. We couldn't, mentally, see him as a human being, because someone who belongs to the human race is not capable of doing what he so gladly did."
Eichmann was flown to Israel and, once he landed,  prime minister at the time, David Ben-Gurion, made a brief and dramatic announcement about it to the Knesset. "When the trial was about to begin, we received tickets for the opening day, on condition that we didn't enter together, that we didn't sit together or talk to one another, so there would be no chance of us being identified as having been involved in the operation," Nessyahu wrote. "We came separately to the building where the trial was held, we entered separately, we sat separately and we didn't speak to each other, we didn't act friendly, because those were the instructions. Still, when they brought in Eichmann and sat him in the glass booth, in the gallery where we were sitting, looks passed from one to the other, and we couldn't help but feel that we had indeed participated in a historic operation, in which the Jewish People brought to justice one of the greatest enemies in its calamity- and hardship-filled history.
"Ben-Gurion said that history was on trial here. I do not agree. History is a general, cold, estranged thing that does not feel what each Jew felt in those moments when the prosecutor stood up and began his opening statement: 'Here with me at this moment stand six million accusers ... ' In my view, the Jewish People did not put history on trial. The Jewish people, as Rabbi Levy Yitzhak of Berdichev said, turned to God with the question that every Jew carries in his heart like a burning wound that no amount of time will ever heal: 'Why?' God didn't answer ... "
Two years after the Eichmann operation, Nessyahu was involved in the Yossele Schumacher case, which gripped the nation. Schumacher, born in 1952 in the Soviet Union, moved to Israel with his parents at age 6. Because of financial difficulties, the parents handed him over to the care of his grandfather, Nachman Shtarkes, an ultra-Orthodox Jew from the Mea Shearim neighborhood. A year later, the parents asked for their child back, but the grandfather refused to hand him over, claiming that his daughter and her husband were planning to move back to Russia and convert. The Supreme Court ordered Shtarkes to return the boy by February 1960, but he still refused to reveal his whereabouts, even when imprisoned. In April 1960, Schumacher was declared "missing" and the question "Where's Yossele?" became a well-known expression in the country. In 1962, Ben-Gurion ordered Mossad chief Harel to try to locate the boy. Dozens of Mossad agents, including Nessyahu, were involved in the operation.
"She was chosen for the Yossele case because she was religious and Flemish," says Tirza Ben-Haim. "At first, they suspected that the boy had been smuggled to Europe and they sent her to infiltrate the Satmar community in Antwerp. Her cover story was that she was a religious young woman seeking a marriage match and it was a little risky, because her family came from there. She was hosted by a respected member of the community and she pretended she didn't understand Flemish and only knew a little Yiddish. She lived in their home for several months, and would sit there and act like she was studying when she was really listening in on their conversations. From their conversations, she gathered that the child had been passed on to a woman who had disguised him as a girl and transferred him from Belgium to the United States. This was a fantastic tip, because then they knew where he had been sent."
Mira Davis, Nessyahu's third niece: "She always said that when she talked with that Belgian family it was hard for her to remember what she was and wasn't supposed to know, and she had to be careful not to slip up. She recalled that once she was in the kitchen and they were talking about her pityingly, about what a shame it was that she was that old and still needed to get married, about how she looked, and she's sitting there having to pretend that she doesn't understand a word they're saying.
"Yehudit arranged for the family in Belgium to recommend her to the Satmar in New York, so she could gain entry there, too," says Davis. "By the time she arrived there, it was more or less known which family the boy was with." In the end, Schumacher was located in July 1962 with the Gertners, a Satmar family in Brooklyn, and returned to Israel to his parents.
The year that Schumacher was returned to Israel, Yehudit married Mordechai (Dukshi) Nessyahu, a former Mapam activist who became a visionary of the Labor Party. "She'd known him for years, since university," says Tirza Ben-Haim. "He came from a very interesting family. His mother was the daughter of a Hasidic rabbi and she ran away from home and decided to raise her son 'without God,' and it really took many years for Dukshi, who knew nothing of religion, and for Yehudit, a religious woman, to decide that it would work out anyway. One time, they were in New York with some friends who didn't know them that well and they were discussing ideology. She stated her view and he stated his. Then they discussed religion and each one stated his views. And then someone asked if they smoked and they both said no and everyone laughed that 'at least you have one thing in common.' Neither of them had a driver's license, either, by the way.
"They got along because they both knew exactly what they were getting into and they agreed to skip over the disagreements and live together in love and cooperation. Dukshi, for example, would make kiddush on Friday nights. Laughing a little, maybe, but he'd do it. And the minute he finished, he'd go turn on the television. Live and let live. On Yom Kippur, while she was fasting, she would serve food to the boys."
The couple's only son, Haim (Haimie), was born in 1964, when Nessyahu was 39. "When he was old enough for preschool, she had to decide which school system to put him in, religious or secular," says Ruthie Ben-Haim. "She asked a rabbi and when the rabbi understood how powerful the father's secularism was, he recommended that the child be in a secular system. And then she went to Haimie, who was 3, and asked him, 'What do you want to be? Religious or secular?' He asked her, 'What's that?' and she explained that a religious person keeps the mitzvot, and so on. He asked her, 'If I'm religious, can I go to Beit Oren on Shabbat?' That's where some of the Ben-Haim family lived. She told him, 'No,' and he said, 'Then I want to be secular.'"
As she raised her son, Nessyahu kept working her way up the Mossad ranks; in her last post there, in the 1970s, she was in charge of the organization's personnel division. In this role, she was the contact person for those arrested in the so-called Lillehammer Affair in Norway in 1973 - when Mossad agents assassinated Ahmed Bouchiki, a Moroccan-born waiter, mistaking him for Black September terrorist Ali Hassan Salameh.
Eliezer Palmor, author of the book "Parshat Lilhammer: miyomano shel me'urav lo shayakh" ("The Lillehammer Affair"), was sent on behalf of the Foreign Ministry to deal with the arrested men, and met frequently with Nessyahu. "I was asked to go and meet her in Stockholm," he says now. "The one who made the connection between us was the encoder at the embassy. I wasn't experienced in this sort of thing and I imagined I was going to meet the Mata Hari. I arrived at the hotel, and the door was opened by this very drab housewife sort of person. Nothing special. If you had seen her on the street, you never would imagine that she did the kind of work she did.
"She was the head of human resources in the Mossad; I was in continuous contact with her, and the updates on developments came through her. She would come from Oslo from time to time, and she was there during the trial, and I came to the hotel every day with attorney Erwin Shimron, who was asked to be the Israeli attorney behind the Norwegian attorneys. She was married to a Mapai ideologue and he also came once to try to influence the Norwegian prime minister, who was from Labor.
"We used to talk a lot during those extremely dull Oslo nights. She drank a cup of tea or coffee, maybe because she didn't quite believe me when I said that things were kosher. Yehudit was a woman with a very big heart and she gave her all to caring for the prisoner's families, worrying about those who were married with small children, and about the preparations for the day of their release."
Dina Eitan, the wife of Avraham Gehmer, who was one of the men arrested in Norway, remembers Nessyahu fondly. "When I met her she was about 50 and she impressed me as a very strong, intelligent and educated woman. Even though I wasn't in a great situation then, it was very pleasant to be in her company, and every meeting with her was very interesting. To help persuade the Norwegians to release the prisoners for humanitarian reasons, the Mossad tried to convince me to say that as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, it was too hard for me without Avraham. Today I think I made a mistake, but then I thought that I needed to emulate Avraham's heroism and that it wasn't seemly to use such excuses.
"When the prisoners came back from Norway, in May 1975," says Eitan, "Yehudit invited all of us to her home. Then we kept in touch for a while and would call one another sometimes. Every time I saw her, she would talk about her son with such admiration. He was her only child and her whole world."
In 1976, Nessyahu retired from the Mossad. "When I asked her why she was retiring, she said she had gone as far as she could and that they had nothing more to offer her. There were very few women in the Mossad who had advanced as far as she had," says Ruthie Ben-Haim.
At the urging of attorney Shimron, who had become a close and respected friend, she began to study law and later interned in his office. His son, David Shimron, said this week that he remembers Yehudit Nessyahu as "a very impressive, extraordinarily intelligent woman who was a voracious reader."
In addition to law, Nessyahu also studied accounting and was appointed director-general of the Hebrew Writers' Association. Meanwhile, she also became politically active and together with her brother Ephraim, helped found the Tehiya Party. Former MK Geula Cohen says: "She was what you call 'a character.' Someone really out of the ordinary. She had a simple way about her, but she had a talent for leadership. She had very firm ideas on a lot of subjects, whether to hold a conference or not, how to vote on this or that law. She was tremendously articulate. Her brother would meet with Rabbi Eliezer Waldman and with Hanan Porat and together they prepared the Tehiya platform, and she helped with it, too. She wasn't a member of the official secretariat, but in reality she was more than that. Yuval Ne'eman trusted her completely. While Ephraim was soft and gentle and didn't always think it was necessary to argue, she was a little tougher."
Despite her activity in various public spheres, Nessyahu assiduously shunned publicity. Palmor recalls that she "ran from the camera like it was the devil." Halevy says: "She was always very discreet and able to keep a secret. She never spoke about her work, nor was she interviewed." Ruthie Ben-Haim explains: "She always said: 'If one picture of me ends up in the wrong place, even innocently, someone could die.' That's why she refused to have her name mentioned explicitly. She was certain that there were people who had worked with her who could be hurt if her identity were revealed."
Tirza Ben-Haim adds: "Yehudit was never willing to write about the Mossad. She always said, 'There's still time,' but she always put it off. What I think is that, in her own mind, she remained a spy until the end."
The Nessyahus lived on Sderot Ben-Zion in Tel Aviv; their apartment was recently put up for sale. Yehudit's mother lived next door to them until she died. "She always said that we need to enjoy the house, not vice-versa," says Tirza Ben-Haim. "So it was a joyful house. We'd play soccer in the hallway there, Haimie's friends were always coming over. When he was in the army, they would come to leave their weapons there before going out. One friend whose parents left the city actually moved in there."
In 1994, Nessyahu joined her son and his girlfriend on a two-week trip to India. After she returned to Israel, Haimie, then 30, and his girlfriend continued on to Nepal. After his travels, he was planning on taking up a post-doctoral position in mathematics in the United States. "They went on a trek, came off the mountain, everything was fine and they went to sleep," says Ben-Haim. "Haimie woke up at six in the morning and asked his girlfriend, 'What time is it?' She told him he had another half hour to sleep. He turned over, and then she heard him gurgling. She tried to see what was wrong and saw that he had lost consciousness. They tried to revive him, but he died. Yehudit didn't want an autopsy because she said it wouldn't make any difference, it wouldn't bring him back to life if she knew what he died from. As a religious person she wanted to be as respectful as possible to the body. In her eulogy for Haimie, she wrote that she thanked God for the 30 years she had with him. That she wasn't angry, but that she couldn't understand."
The heartbreak was overwhelming. Mira Davis recalls: "Whenever tragedies happened in the family, when her father died abroad and when our brother died in Tanzania, she traveled to bring home the bodies. She'd say, 'I went to get everyone, but I couldn't bring my son home.' From then on, every year, on the anniversary, she would travel to Nepal, spend an hour or two in the hostel where he died and take a helicopter over his final route. She traveled alone. She wouldn't let anyone come with her. Every year with the same pilot. And then she'd return. In Katmandu, she established a library in her son's memory for the Israeli backpackers. It's located in Chabad House now."
Three years after her son's death, her husband died of an illness. Six years later, in August 2003, Yehudit Nessyahu passed away. "She wanted each year to be her last; she got to the point where she basically gave up," says Davis. "She kept in close touch with Haimie's girlfriend, studied languages and kept busy, but it really broke her. She kept on going, but on the inside she was broken and just waiting for the end."
Based on Woman of many faces by Uri Blau 

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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