The spy transforms into his cover identity. He will travel to Brazil, where his assassination target is living, and attempt to lure him into a trap. If his cover fails, Herbert Cukurs — The Butcher of Latvia — may kill him. But before Cukurs could be placed on a kill list, and before Mossad could begin to track him down, Cukurs’ pursuers had to be sure he was the right guy. Was this really the Butcher of Latvia?
CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains descriptions of graphic violence. Listener discretion is advised.
An organization called the World Jewish Congress announced that the Butcher of Latvia had been found and was living in Brazil. And, despite the growing international indifference toward the hunt for Nazis, it had an effect. There were headlines in Brazilian newspapers. Cukurs’ business was ruined. He had to move several times to avoid angry protestors.
Eventually Cukurs moves to São Paolo, running another small boat rental business. This was not what Cukurs had imagined for himself. His dreams of building a glorious new life in Brazil had been shattered. The Jews had seen to that. He was bitter, paranoid and lonely. Cukurs hoped for a grand third act to his life. He believed in himself. He just had to convince the world that he’d been misunderstood in order to get his fame and the money back.
The Israeli government kept a list of important Nazi criminals who’d escaped justice. We don’t know how many people were on it, but we do know a few of the more famous names: Adolf Eichmann, one of the main architects of the Holocaust. Mossad captured him in 1960, put him on trial, and executed him. Dr. Josef Mengele, known as “The Angel of Death,” who’d murdered Jewish children at Auschwitz and had conducted ghastly experiments on Jewish prisoners, was high on the list. Herbert Cukurs had made the list too.
In the early 1960s, the Israelis became concerned about a possible amnesty for Nazis. The German government was considering giving a free pass to Nazi murderers who hadn’t been indicted yet. The Israelis wanted to stop this from happening and they had decided to go after a Nazi. A few months later, our Mossad agent, Mio, was getting ready to assume the role of a lifetime. He had his target. Now he had to prepare to meet him.
He faced a confident, tough-minded man. One who wouldn’t go quietly. Mio had to plan the mission without explicit directions from headquarters. For that, Mio had to get inside the Butcher’s head, find out what he wanted, discover his weak points. Mio booked a flight to Brazil for September 11th, 1964. He was ready to meet the Butcher.
This episode contains interviews with Dr. Sarah Valente, visiting assisstant professor at The Ackerman Center at The University of Texas at Dallas. Dr. Valente studies the legacy of World War II and the Holocaust in Brazil.
This episode contains excerpts from tapes contained in the papers of Jack Anderson, the legendary investigative reporter. Anderson’s papers reside at George Washington University's GW Libraries.
“Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher” is written and hosted by Stephan Talty. Produced and directed by Scott Waxman and Jacob Bronstein. Executive Producers: Scott Waxman and Mark Francis. Story editing by Jacob Bronstein with editorial direction from Scott Waxman and Mangesh Hattikudur. Editing, mixing, and sound design by Mark Francis. With the voices of: Nick Afka Thomas, Omri Anghel, Andrew Polk, Mindy Escobar-Leanse, Steve Routman, and Stefan Rudnicki. Theme music by Tyler Cash. Archival research by Adam Shapiro. Thanks to Kevin Anderson & the Anderson family for permission to use the Jack Anderson recordings, Leah Richardson and the Special Collections Research Center at George Washington University Library, and Ron Saah.