1. Movies

From St. Petersburg museum to Hollywood, 'Operation Finale' curator talks about daring Nazi spy tale

Avner Avraham, the former Mossad agent and curator of the exhibition called Operation Finale: The Capture & Trial of Adolf Eichmann at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg. The blockbuster exhibition on the capture of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. DIRK SHADD | Times
Published Aug. 21, 2018

Little more than a month after an exhibit on the famous Nazi-hunting exploit Operation Finale ended its run at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Hollywood has put the story of the capture of Adolf Eichmann on screen. The exhibit's curator is glowing.

Operation Finale opens in theaters Aug. 29 starring Oscar Isaac and Ben Kingsley as Eichmann, one of the key architects of the Holocaust. The buzz on the film is good, and it was moved up to Labor Day weekend after preview audiences gave it strong reviews.

Avner Avraham, the curator who oversaw the exhibition's five-month stay in St. Petersburg, was an adviser on the film and had a small part as an extra playing cards in a cafe next to Oscar Isaac. He is featured in an official vignette by MGM on the making of the movie. As the film's "Mossad consultant," he says, "Eichmann used to say I was a small conduit machine, but actually he was the machine."

The story is one of the most daring espionage operations in history. In 1960, the new country of Israel's spy agency, Mossad, undertook the abduction of Eichmann from the streets of Argentina and disguised him as a crew member to smuggle him back to Israel for a trial. It was history's first televised trial, one that captivated millions around the world and allowed many Holocaust survivors to tell their stories for the first time, 15 years after the war.

Avraham walked the red carpet with the film's stars at New York's Lincoln Center recently and in a phone interview this week said he was gratified by the film and the audience reaction.

"It's not a documentary, but this is a way to tell the story of the Holocaust for people who don't want to hear about the Holocaust," Avraham said. "People don't wake up and say, 'What a lovely day, let's go to the Holocaust Museum.' But they go to the cinema to see the wonderful Ben Kingsley playing Eichmann. And maybe they will remember something and maybe they will read about it and maybe take their kids to the nearest Holocaust museum."

Making an entertaining spy movie, he said, is "like medicine inside a candy."

Oscar winner Kingsley's performance in particular got high praise from Avraham, 53, who retired from the Mossad three years ago and now spends all his time on the exhibit and is working on a book.

"It's very easy to say Eichmann was a monster. But he was a regular human. He's got four kids, a family, he built a home for them. Just like the other Nazis who believed in something and made evil things," Avraham said. "Some people say the movie humanizes Eichmann, But he was a human being. That's the whole idea."

Among Avraham's contributions was giving filmmakers a real wrist tattoo number from a Holocaust survivor from Hungary when one of the actors shows an Auschwitz concentration camp tattoo. He also advised them on the names of the many airlines stamped on the spies' luggage, and showed them how agents swapped a picture of Eichmann onto a fake passport used to get him out of Argentina.

And he brought potatoes to the set for a scene making fake passports. Years ago, forgers would cut a fresh potato in half and use it to transfer a stamp from one passport to another.

"If you look carefully you'll see one of the potatoes I put out there."

Avraham said Operation Finale, the exhibit, which uses photographs, film and declassified spy artifacts, is booked solid for the next three years at museums around the country.

He has seen the movie three times and can't wait to see it again.

"Every minute of the movie means to me a lot because I remember the set, I remember what happened on the set that day," Avraham said. "I can see my fingerprints in the movie."

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at Follow @SharonKWn.


  1. Bill Skarsgard in the movie, "It". [Brooke Palmer, Warner Bros. Pictures] is offering to pay one approved applicant to track things such as their heart rate, jump scares and sleep patterns.
  2. "Rambo: Last Blood" stars Sylvester Stallone. YANA BLAJEVA  |  Lionsgate
    ‘Villains’ and ‘Ambition’ also open, plus Gigglewaters features ‘Mars Attacks!’ before the “storming” of Area 51.
  3. An image from the poster for Magnolia Pictures' documentary "Wrinkles the Clown." The film is set for an Oct. 4 release. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
    The real-life creepy clown sightings phenomenon is back in a new movie. We talked to the director.
  4. Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Barbour, left, and Ansel Elgort as Theo Decker in "The Goldfinch." MACALL POLAY  |  Warner Bros. Pictures
    Plus, ‘Edie’ and ‘Freaks’ accompany a trio of local screenings.
  5. From left: Tim Curry as Frank N. Furter, Barry Bostwick as Brad Majors and Susan Sarandon as Janet Weiss in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." 20th Century Fox
    The popular ‘Last Podcast on the Left’ and Barry Bostwick from ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ are new to A Nightmare on Franklin Street.
  6. In this June 23 photo, Lizzo arrives at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. The rapper will take the stage at Yuengling Center in Tampa on Tuesday. RICHARD SHOTWELL  |  Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP
    Lizzo continues her rein over 2019 with a Tampa concert, and the Lightning Fan Fest fuels Bolts fever.
  7. Disney's Aladdin comes to the Straz Center for the Performing Arts as part of the 2019-2020 Broadway series. Courtesy of Deen van Meer.
    From augmented reality at the Dalí to a boatload of Beethoven at the Florida Orchestra, it’s shaping up as another busy season in the arts.
  8. In 1960, black people could work behind lunch counters in downtown St. Petersburg, but any attempt to dine there immediately brought out 'This Section Closed' signs. Sit-ins led to the desegregation of public dining areas in 1961. Tampa Bay Times (1962)
    Plus, you can sing along to 'The Sound of Music’ at Tampa Theatre.
  9. Dusty is back in Disney's 2013 high-flying adventure "Planes: Fire & Rescue." Tampa International Airport will offer a free screening for families in its new event space on Saturday. Disney
    You can brush up on your Tarantino trivia for prizes in Clearwater, plus enjoy Florida Game Day at the Sulphur Springs Museum or Family Nerf Wars in Safety Harbor.
  10. Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise in "It Chapter Two." Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
    Eckerd College also kicks off the fall edition of its International Cinema Series with the award-winning ‘Amazing Grace.’