9. Judgment Day

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Judgment Day had arrived: February 23, 1965. Herbert Cukurs carried his gun in a leather holster as he boarded the plane to Uruguay and headed off into what he must have imagined was his new life. The men of the Mossad kill team were spread out in various hotels across Montevideo. They woke up early on that February morning and began to get ready for the Butcher’s arrival.

The spy later wrote, “We planned a very brief court-martial in which we intended to read the charges to [Cukurs], in the name of the 30,000 Jews from Riga and Latvia – children, women, the elderly, and men – who had been murdered by him... We wanted him to know that this entire long affair with Anton Kuenzle had been designed only to set the stage for the moment of revenge in the name of his innocent victims. And then we were going to put a bullet in his head.”

Germany's planned amnesty for Nazis was getting more and more international attention. In the US, the NAACP had added its name to Simon Wiesenthal’s letter. Pressure was building, both for the amnesty and against it.

The full debate in the German parliament was scheduled for March 10th, two and a half weeks away. The Mossad team was cutting things close. Maybe they thought the fresher Cukurs’ crimes were in the minds of German legislators, the better it was for their cause. Maybe it just took this long to get the Butcher into position. But they knew they didn’t have a lot of time to mount another mission if things went wrong.

By now, thousands of people around the world had marched against Germany’s amnesty. In Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Washington, Tel Aviv, and Paris, there were protests. A journalist interviewed one of the marchers in Toronto. She told him, “I am the only survivor of Bergen-Belsen of my entire family. I am so lonely without my relatives.”

At the Casa, the kill team undressed down to their underwear. If the reports had been correct, the encounter would be bloody, and they didn’t want the evidence of a struggle on their clothes. They waited in the hot, humid room, listening to the workers’ banter next door and the noise of their tools. They checked their watches.

This episode contains interviews with Fernando Butazzoni, award-winning journalist and author of the 2020 book on Mossad's Cukurs mission, Los Que Nunca Olvidarán (Those Who Will Never Forget)

“Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher" came out of Stephan Talty's work on a related book, The Good Assassin. Explore other parts of this story in the book: Buy The Good Assassin

• Written and Hosted by STEPHAN TALTY

• Produced and Directed by SCOTT WAXMAN and JACOB BRONSTEIN

• Executive Producers: SCOTT WAXMAN and MARK FRANCIS

• Story Editor: JACOB BRONSTEIN

• Editorial direction: SCOTT WAXMAN and MANGESH HATTIKUDUR

• Editing, mixing, and sound design: MARK FRANCIS

• With the voices of: NICK AFKA THOMAS, OMRI ANGHEL, ANDREW POLK, MINDY ESCOBAR-LEANSE, STEVE ROUTMAN, STEFAN RUDNICKI

• Theme Music by TYLER CASH

• Archival Researcher: ADAM SHAPIRO

• Thanks to OREN ROSENBAUM

Learn more about “Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher” at DiversionPodcasts.com

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