14 episodes

Part spy thriller, part detective case, part Holocaust history. This is the untold story of the epic Israeli spy mission to hunt down a savage, escaped Nazi murderer. Led by a brilliant Mossad agent who lost his entire family in the Holocaust, the hunt for the infamous Butcher of Latvia was a secretive espionage operation that forever altered the fates of all ex-Nazis. Bestselling author and journalist Stephan Talty brings the story to life using interviews with the Butcher’s victims, the relatives of the Israeli agents, and the Mossad spies themselves, revealing for the first time this little-known chapter of Holocaust history and the pulse-pounding undercover operation that brought The Butcher to justice.

Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher iHeartRadio

    • True Crime
    • 4.9 • 293 Ratings

Part spy thriller, part detective case, part Holocaust history. This is the untold story of the epic Israeli spy mission to hunt down a savage, escaped Nazi murderer. Led by a brilliant Mossad agent who lost his entire family in the Holocaust, the hunt for the infamous Butcher of Latvia was a secretive espionage operation that forever altered the fates of all ex-Nazis. Bestselling author and journalist Stephan Talty brings the story to life using interviews with the Butcher’s victims, the relatives of the Israeli agents, and the Mossad spies themselves, revealing for the first time this little-known chapter of Holocaust history and the pulse-pounding undercover operation that brought The Butcher to justice.

    Listen to "I Am Kobe"

    Listen to "I Am Kobe"

    Introducing a new podcast from Diversion Podcasts & iHeartRadio. What if we could go back in time, before he became the icon, and ask him: how did you become Kobe Bryant? “I Am Kobe” tells the story of Kobe Bryant’s early life through his coaches, his family, his friends. With never-before-heard intimate tapes of Kobe himself. His thoughts, his dreams, his goals from his teenage years, revealed for the first time. Listen to “I Am Kobe” for free on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, and all the places you get podcasts. Listen to his voice.

    Cover photo © Eileen Blass – USA TODAY NETWORK
    Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com

    • 1 min
    New Questions & Conspiracies

    New Questions & Conspiracies

    We asked listeners for your questions: Things you didn’t hear in "Hunting the Butcher" and were curious about, or other stories the podcast got you thinking about. Many of your questions prompted new research. In this episode, Stephan Talty answers listeners' questions and digs deeper into the issues the audience brought up. 

    We received amazing queries from all over the world: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the UK, the US and elsewhere. Some of them were from families of Holocaust survivors and one was even from a guy who worked with a former SS officer working "undercover." A lot of listeners' questions prompted Stephan Talty to research additional aspects of Mossad’s Herbert Cukurs mission.

    Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher came out of author Stephan Talty's work on his book, *The Good Assassin.* Click here to: Buy the Book

    Questions answered on this episode include:

    • *I have a question about something mentioned in one of the early episodes, about Cukurs having supporters. I’m just really curious to understand how people would claim that he’s innocent with all the testimonials from victims that you have and have shared. Is there any evidence pointing to innocence?"
    • “I have a question about Mio and other spies living in Europe. How would they keep their cover in a place like Paris without the French government knowing — or did they know?”
    • “I was wondering why the German [Statute of Limitations] law would apply to Cukurs even though he was a Latvian citizen. Could he still not have been prosecuted in his home country?”
    • *Mio and the team seem to have a formalized “judgment” document or speech or something that they intend to read to Cukurs at his execution. It’s portrayed as a sort of all encompassing legal document that functions as the predetermined outcome and opinion of judge, jury, and executioner. Was this sort of process or document used because of legal, judicial, or Mossad internal policy reasons? Who wrote the “judgment” and at what point in the government decision making process is this “judgment” made and written out, i.e., did the high level government officials that named Czukurs for execution write this, did Mossad, or did Mio or Yariv themselves write it? Was this a common occurrence in Mossad operations or in government sponsored assassinations at the time?"
     

    • 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
    • Theme Music by TYLER CASH
    • Archival Researcher: ADAM SHAPIRO
    • Thanks to OREN ROSENBAUM

    Learn more about “Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher” at DiversionPodcasts.com 
    Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com

    • 40 min
    Mossad's Greatest Hits & Misses

    Mossad's Greatest Hits & Misses

    The Cukurs operation barely scratches the surface of what Mossad has done over the years. Mossad has been, “involved in special operations and activity in the service of the State of Israel, such as the pursuit of Nazi criminals.” This episode explores some of the most important operations the agency has carried out. Stephan Talty describes missions you’ve probably never heard of but that shaped the Middle East and the whole world.

    The episode contains interviews with Robert Baer, accomplished former CIA agent, intelligence expert and security analyst, bestselling author of several books including *See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War Against Terrorism* which was the basis for the film Syriana, in which George Clooney's character is based on Baer and H. Keith Melton, intelligence historian and expert on espionage tradecraft.

    Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher came out of author Stephan Talty's work on a book called *The Good Assassin.* Click here to Buy the book

    THE JET discusses an operation in which the target wasn’t human. In 1963, the Israelis decided they had to have a MIG. At the time, the MIG was the most advanced Soviet fighter plane, and the latest model, the MIG-21, had been purchased by Israel’s neighbors — and enemies — Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.

    THE ENGINEER tells the story of Yahya Ayash, the No. 1 bombmaker for Hamas. Ayash was a master of building explosives. Ayash built bombs for Hamas suicide attacks: the Mehola Junction bombing in 1993, the Afula Bus massacre in 1994, the Dizengoff Street bus massacre also in 1994 — at the time, the deadliest suicide bombing in Israeli history with 22 civilians killed and 50 injured — Ayash was also behind the Hadera central station massacre, again in 1994, and many more.

    THE SCIENTIST is about the Israeli government's operations to find out if Syria, which had been hostile to their Jewish neighbors for decades, had a nuclear program. Was there anything going on? Were they building plants? Were they thinking of building bombs? There was no evidence on the ground that anything was happening. Israel’s spy satellites were picking up nothing. Still, some people at Mossad had an uneasy feeling.

    THE WRONG MAN explores Operation Wrath of God. In 1972, Mossad was thrust into the spotlight when members of the faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization known as “Black September” took Israeli athletes and coaches hostage at the Munich Olympic Games. A botched German ambush resulted in the murder of nine Israelis, as well as the deaths of the terrorists. It was a catastrophe - for the Olympics, for the Germans, and for the Israelis. Prime Minister Golda Meir quickly approved Operation Wrath of God, a covert Mossad operation to hunt down and kill the planners of the Munich massacre.

    SPIES NEVER FORGET tells the story of a Lebanese man named Imad Fayez Mughniyah, the mastermind in a series of terror attacks against Israelis. He was believed to be the chief of staff for Hezbollah and was a link between Iran and terrorist groups. Mossad and Mughniyah were involved in a cat and mouse game for decades. Mossad wanted to kill him and Mughniyah knew it.

    THE GENERAL is about a man named Mohammed Suleiman, a general in the Syrian army and one of the main contacts to Iran and Hamas. Israel wanted him gone. 

    • 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
    • Theme Music by TYLER CASH
    • Archival Researcher: ADAM SHAPIRO
    • Thanks to OREN ROSENBAUM

    Learn more about “Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher” at DiversionPodcasts.com 
    Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com

    • 59 min
    Motives for Murder

    Motives for Murder

    The story of the spy and the murderer isn't over. There is something missing in the story: the answer to the question of *why*. Why did Herbert Cukurs go from being a national hero to a mass murderer? Stephan Talty speaks to some striking characters to try and finally answer that question. It turns out to have more sides than we originally thought.

    The opinion of most people was that Cukurs had always been a secret anti-Semite. Before the war, he’d hidden this hatred inside himself. But really he hated Jews. And when the war came, the Nazis gave him a chance to use that hatred. And he did terrible things. End of story. 

    But that just didn’t fit the facts. So Talty kept looking. And in that search, he found Zelma Shepshelovich. Zelma was a bright, beautiful Jewish girl. During the war, on the day her family had been murdered, Zelma had been hidden by a Latvian guy who was hopelessly in love with her. And she stayed in hiding and learned things that take us to the heart of Cukurs’ life. Her story also involves psychiatric asylums, an escape to Sweden, suicide attempts and much more.

    But Zelma's story is mostly about suffering and love and never forgetting. Zelma is the key to knowing the question of *why*. Or at least one side of it.

    Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher came out of author Stephan Talty's work on a book called The Good Assassin: Buy the book

    This episode contains interviews with:
    • Zelma Shepshelovich, courtesy of The Institute for Visual History and Education at the USC Shoah Foundation
    • Naomi Ahimeir, daughter of Zelma Shepshelovich
    • Ilya Lensky, Director of the Jews in Latvia Museum in Riga, Latvia
    • Dr. Sarah Valente, visiting assisstant professor at The Ackerman Center at The University of Texas at Dallas

    • 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
    Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com

    • 58 min
    Judgment Day

    Judgment Day

    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 
    Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com

    • 1 hr 1 min
    The Ticking Clock

    The Ticking Clock

    The spy was happy to be back home, but his mission wasn’t complete. The final act was still to take place in Uruguay. So in the Mossad apartment in the heart of Paris, the kill team started to plan the assassination. They were going ahead with the plan. The debate in the German Parliament was coming up in a few months. They all hoped a successful mission would influence it. 

    “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

    There was a lot of work to do. The Mossad boss Yosef Yariv had collected all the documents the spy had sent from the field, including maps of Montevideo and São Paolo, information on hotels and renting cars. He’d written down what they'd to get through passport control and what problems the other team members might face. But they still didn’t have a place where the assassination could be carried out. They didn’t even know how it was going to be carried out. 

    Mossad wanted everyone to suspect that Israel had carried out the killing but it didn’t want any of its agents to get caught. What they were doing wasn’t legal. Cukurs wasn’t going to get a trial or have a lawyer, like Adolf Eichmann had got after Mossad kidnapped him. They didn’t want Mossad to be the story. They wanted Cukurs to be the story. 

    So the team members had to carry out the killing, gather their belongings, and head to the airport. They had to get on the plane and get safely back to Europe before Cukurs’ body was discovered. That influenced how the assassination would be carried out. It couldn’t be public. It couldn’t be loud. And the body had to be left out of sight, so that someone didn’t stumble on it and raise the alarm before the agents had left the country.

    The team members were almost done with their training in Krav Maga, the Israeli fighting system. Imi Lichtenfeld was working them hard.

    They were losing precious time. The clock was ticking and Germany’s vote on the amnesty statute was approaching fast. If the mission didn’t move forward soon, all would be lost.

    This episode contains interviews with:
    • Eyal Yanilov, co-founder and Chief Instructor of Krav Maga Global
    • 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)
    • Avner Avraham, former Mossad agent and renowned expert on Mossad operations
    • Gad Shimron, former Mossad agent, journalist, author of several books on intelligence and history
    • Chris Costa, veteran of the Department of Defense. US Army counterintelligence, human intelligence, and Special Operations Forces, currently Executive Director of the International Spy Museum

    GOOD ASSASSINS: HUNTING THE BUTCHER
    • 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
    Learn more about your ad-choices at https://www.iheartpodcastnetwork.com

    • 56 min

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5
293 Ratings

293 Ratings

HornL0aed ,

Excellent, but shocking story telling

Expertly narrated by Stephan Talty, this podcast will have you on the edge of your set. Production is on point. Well worth your time!

Thomson Mathew ,

A super hit for war historians

One of the best podcasts in the genre

Pablo Chocolate ,

Very well done

Great dramatisation of true events. Excellent research and thoughtfully pieced together. Highly recommend.

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