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Summary

The untold story of an Israeli spy’s epic journey to bring the notorious Butcher of Latvia to justice - a case that altered the fates of all ex-Nazis.

Before World War II, Herbert Cukurs was a famous figure in his small Latvian city, the “Charles Lindbergh of his country.” But by 1945, he was the Butcher of Latvia, a man who murdered some thirty thousand Latvian Jews. Somehow, he dodged the Nuremberg trials, fleeing to South America after war’s end.

By 1965, as a statute of limitations on all Nazi war crimes threatened to expire, Germany sought to welcome previous concentration camp commanders, pogrom leaders, and executioners, as citizens. The global pursuit of Nazi criminals escalated to beat the looming deadline, and Mossad, the Israeli national intelligence agency, joined the cause. Yaakov Meidad, the brilliant Mossad agent who had kidnapped Adolf Eichmann three years earlier, led the mission to assassinate Cukurs in a desperate bid to block the amnesty. In a thrilling undercover operation unrivaled by even the most ambitious spy novels, Meidad traveled to Brazil in an elaborate disguise, befriended Cukurs and earned his trust, while negotiations over the Nazi pardon neared a boiling point.

The Good Assassin uncovers this little-known chapter of Holocaust history and the pulse-pounding undercover operation that brought Cukurs to justice.

©2020 Stephan Talty (P)2020 Brilliance Publishing, Inc., all rights reserved

Critic reviews

"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." (Publishers Weekly)

"Compelling.... Talty remains true to his technique, delivering thoroughly researched, engrossing nonfiction in a thrillerlike narrative style.... As anti-Semitism surges once again, this page-turning history reminds us of the sanguinary consequences of unchecked hatred." (Kirkus Reviews)

"Thrilling.... A fast-paced, recommended work that enthralls, edifies, and reveals the disturbing extent to which Latvians and others participated in genocide." (Library Journal) 

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Horrifying tale, Horrifying denial

One of the most vicious round up and murders committed by non-Germans, in the Holocaust. They were open, notorious and unapologetic. Then they lied and are still lying about what they did. This raping, mass butcher not only pretended he didn't commit these crimes, but in modern Latvia, they made a popular play about him. Hatred waiting to be given permission to erupt and the hatred that allows its cover up. Whether it's Jews in the 40's or Rwandans in our time, seemingly good and socially recognised people, just waiting to commit horrors, then pretend it never happened. An important read, but you will read ugly things.

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  • Aaron
  • 22-04-20

Wonderful: A complete history wrapped in a story

This was a wonderful story that is extremely readable -- listenable. But it is also remarkably informative, carefully constructed to be complete. It begins with a portrait of the young Herbert Cukurs, a Latvian aviation hero, described as Latvia's Lindbergh. It is a remarkable story in and of itself of a man whose ambitions drove him to great feats with the airplane and descriptions of those feats. Cukurs did not at least appear to be anti-Semitic in his early years and he was idolized by many Latvian Jews as a hero. But once the Germans arrived in Latvia, he turned on the Jewish population. This section of the book is graphic describing not only the betrayal of Jews who had idolized him, but the atrocities that took place. WARNING: this section of the book contains graphic descriptions of mass murders of Jews. It is not gratuitous, however, It describes actual facts which are necessary not only to the story, but the history it teaches along the way. It also prepares the reader to see Cukurs as an evil being, thereby setting the scene for the next sections of the book. But this section also includes the stories of individuals living in Riga at the time, and how one young girl was hidden by a Latvian soldier who was in love with her. (She would later provide evidence against a number of war criminals.) The next section describes the Mossad agent who after the war is sent to Brazil to lead Cukurs into a trap. There is a lot of detail here and depending on your view, might drag, but because of the historical value, it was well worth the listen. It is also intertwined with the political fights in Germany over statutes of limitations for war crimes. At least one discussion involves the question of whether Adolph Hitler himself (if he were to have survived) could suddenly walk the streets of Berlin without fear of criminal charges. These political battles were at least in part the motivation for Mossad going after Cukurs in Brazil. The story is extremely well written to weave these parallel sets of events together. Although the climax of the hunt is perhaps a touch disappointing -- the reader is prepared to enjoy a real revenge and is deprived of the perfect assassination -- that is a matter of historical fact, and not the fault of the author. Nonetheless, the events are fascinating. But it also provides an explanation as to why the assassination nearly failed to garner the necessary publicity to affect the political fights in Germany. The remainder of the story goes through the political fight regarding the statute of limitations and it's effects in the world. (It also includes a nice discussion of Bobby Kennedy's views along with a few words from Kennedy's mouth with Kennedy's accent. The reader feels like he is hearing Kennedy speak. So special kudos to the narrator for that.) The story ends with a kind of epilogue including the trial of a related criminal, and the testimony of the aforementioned Jewish woman. It also provides a satisfying epilogue on her life. Finally, the author provides the evidence and explanation as to why this Latvian hero who had no animosity toward Jews became a war criminal killing thousands. It is a puzzle that makes the reader/listener itch throughout the book and is provided a satisfying scratch. I was thrilled with this book. It appears to be extremely well researched and full of important facts. I am smarter for knowing the history, but this was a story and not a reference book It is a rare feat. For those who are interested in war criminals captured well after the Nuremberg trials, I highly recommend this book. For those interested in the German mindset 20 years after the war, this is a rare find. FIVE STARS.

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  • P.Adler
  • 06-11-20

An important but rough story

This is mostly a story about the Latvian Holocaust, with a substantial spy story interlude. As such it is not a pleasant listen for its duration. wish I had known that going in but I’m very glad i listened. A good companion to Arendt’s Banality of Evil and a useful account how a small country was quickly conscripted into the Final Solution