Nazi hunter next door: Village didn't know truth of man who kept chickens

Few people who knew the quiet man with the German accent who kept chickens, helped look after Woodbury village playground and organised barbecues at the village tennis club was once responsible for the daring capture of the ‘world’s most wanted Nazi’. Locals didn’t have an idea that this modest, amiable man, who lived under the name of Hermann Arndt in Woodbury for over 30 years, had once been a key part of the Israeli team that carried out one of the most audacious and controversial missions of secret service history. Neighbours living in the pretty village just outside Exeter had no idea that Hermann Arndt, who lived in his little stone house for 30 years and was known for his love of animals, was also the Israeli Mossad agent who lead the daring operation to capture Adolph Eichmann in 1960.

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After retiring from the Mossad in the 1970s, he became a businessman in Hong Kong and China before settling in Devon, with his second wife Valerie, his first wife having died in 1973.

He died in Woodbury in 2012 at the age of 91. Born Hermann Arndt in Frankfurt, he immigrated to Israel as a boy and was known there as Zvi Aharoni. After the war he joined Mossad and was a key part of the daring operation to kidnap Eichmann and bring him back to Israel to face a war trial.

The film Operation Finale starring Ben Kingsley tells the story and Mr Arndt is played by Michael Aronov.

Eichmann, the architect of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ to exterminate the Jews from Europe, had escaped Germany at the end of the second world war and was living in Argentina. The notorious SS lieutenant colonel masterminded the Nazi network of death camps that resulted in the murder of approximately six million people. Eichmann was wanted for war crimes and was living in  South America after escaping Germany at the end of the war.

The Times said in Hermann Arndt’s obituary in 2012: “He lived quietly in a village near Exeter until his death, helping abandoned animals, keeping chickens and running the barbecue at local tennis club events. “Blending into the background had always been one of Zvi Aharoni’s great skills.” Armed with an old SS photograph of Eichmann, Aharoni travelled in March 1960 to Buenos Aires, and located the house on Garibaldi Street where Eichmann was living.

Hidden under a tarpaulin in a truck outside the house Aharoni first spotted Eichmann “collecting the washing”, and shadowed him and his family’s movements for some time.  He said he had to resist the temptation to take personal revenge there and then on the man involved in the murder of so many of his fellow Jews, as he wanted Eichmann to have “a free and fair trial”.

Nazi hunter next door: Village didn't know truth of man who kept chickensAdolf Eichmann

“When I looked into his eyes,” Aharoni reflected later, “I am sure I should have felt revulsion, or anger, or even wonder at what he had done, but I have interrogated so many monsters that it had no effect on me.” For the first 12 years Mr Arndt kept his astonishing secret from the residents of Woodbury.

But at the age of 76 he wrote the book, Operation Eichmann, about his exploits, and spoke for the first time about his amazing past. He said: “It was my duty to tell the truth. “So many books were rubbish – total rubbish.

It made me furious, so why not tell the truth?”

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He told the Express and Echo how he tracked Eichmann down in Buenos Aires and tailed him before the kidnapping, Mr Arndt said: “My biggest fear was that he would be able to deny who he was and we would be unable to prove it. “In fact in a way I respected him. He was very proud, he never begged for mercy and he never broke down.

And he respected us as professionals too.” Mr Arndt said at that time that despite his cover being blown, he would not leave Woodbury, which was now his home: “I spent 10 years nurturing my garden here, I like it and I will not be moving,” he said. “It’s a shame people know who I am, but I believe it is all in the past.”

Neighbours in Woodbury said they had no idea that the gentleman with a German accent was really a heroic Nazi hunter. Resident Eric Ware, had often chatted with Mr Arndt. He said he was a retiring sort of man but was always charming: “He obviously likes his peace and quiet.

That’s probably why he has come here.

Nazi hunter next door: Village didn't know truth of man who kept chickensNazi hunter, Hermann Arndt, in his Woodbury cottage

“I’m not surprised he chose Woodbury to live in because he is able to live a quiet life. He obviously needs it after what he’s done.” Vanessa Mitchell, a close neighbour, said she had often seen Mr Arndt out and about: “I had no idea who he was.

It’s a secret which he has obviously kept to himself.”

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Professor Bogdan Szajokowski, senior lecturer at Exeter University’s politics department, said: “I think some kind of recognition would be in order.

“He has done a magnificent job and we ought to be very grateful to him.”

In March 2004 he was mentioned in the Woodbury Parish Council minutes of the march meeting: “Hermann Arndt who has been looking after the two Woodbury play areas is retiring after three years.”

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