8 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. New episodes every Friday.

Good Assassins: Hunting the Butcher iHeartRadio

    • True Crime
    • 4.8 • 1.8K 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. New episodes every Friday.

    The Method of Death

    The Method of Death

    By the winter of 1964, the mission was coming into focus. In Brazil, the spy continued to meet with Herbert Cukurs, stoking The Butcher's excitement for his coming wealth and making sure he’d be willing to travel outside of Brazil. Yosef Yariv had chosen his kill team and they were training under the Krav Maga master, Imi Lichtenfeld.

    EMAIL US: We want to hear from you. Are you curious about something you’ve heard on “Hunting the Butcher” and want to know more? Is there something we haven’t covered that you wish we would? Record yourself asking your question, include your name and where you’re from, and we’ll try to answer your question on a future episode. Email your questions to: huntingthebutcher@diversionpodcasts.com

    Herbert Cukurs was getting excited. He needed money, but more importantly, after being a pariah for years, he needed the encouragement that this high roller "Anton Kuenzle" gave him. Mio had sensed almost from the minute he met Cukurs that the guy was a narcissist.

    What the spy didn’t know was that Cukurs was also playing a part. He pretended he was gung-ho, but the truth is he was deeply worried by the idea of leaving the country. Decades on the run had made him a worrier. He knew the Jews wanted him. Who’s to say this wasn’t the nightmare he’d been running away from ever since he left Latvia?

    Cukurs thought about it. What Anton Kuenzle offered was so tempting. It was maybe his last chance at getting rich and getting his reputation back. It was too good to pass up. He was leaning towards going. But he wasn’t sure.

    The spy flew to Uruguay and its capital, Montevideo. He wanted to see if it could work for the final act of the mission. He rented a car, studied the map, and started searching for a house. He needed something that looked like it could serve as the home base for a respectable company. It had to fool the Butcher. 

    Cukurs arrived in Montevideo a few days later. He was super excited. He probably hadn’t left Brazil in twenty years and now he was on a vacation with all expenses paid.

    This was the important thing. Mio was starting to condition Cukurs, getting him to go in and out of strange houses.

    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.
    • 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

    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

    • 43 min
    The Kill Team

    The Kill Team

    The spy had gotten a step closer to the Butcher. Comparing Israel's mission to assassinate Herbert Cukurs to the US mission to assassinate Osama Bin Laden, the latter was revenge. But when Israel and Mossad decided to kill The Butcher of Latvia, it was to prevent more killing of Jews. Things were starting to heat up with the Statute of Limitations, which was the whole reason for the mission: to stop Germany from giving Nazi killers a free pass for their atrocities. Importantly, a famous Nazi hunter joined the cause: Simon Wiesenthal. Wiesenthal was a master publicist and self-promoter and was obsessed with finding the men and women responsible for the Holocaust and bringing Nazis to justice.

    CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains descriptions of violence. Listener discretion is advised.

    EMAIL US YOUR QUESTIONS: We want to hear from you. Are you curious about something you’ve heard on “Hunting the Butcher” and want to know more? Is there something we haven’t covered that you wish we would? Record yourself asking your question, include your name and where you’re from, and we’ll try to answer your question on a future episode. Email your questions to: huntingthebutcher@diversionpodcasts.com

    There was also the question of the assassination method. Mossad had many ways to take someone out, what they called “targeted killings.”

    Yosef Yariv's job was to recruit the rest of the team that would fly to South America to join Mio and carry out the sentence on the Butcher. The team would need to train in how to bring down a strong, desperate man who has just realized he’s fighting for his life. 

    Yariv found a guy. His name was Imi Lichtenfeld. Lichtenfeld had created a street-­fighting technique called Krav Maga (“close combat” in Hebrew), which allowed practitioners to inflict the most damage in the shortest possible time. In 1948, the Israel Defense Forces had adopted Krav Maga for training its recruits and named Imi Lichtenfeld Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness. In 1964, Lichtenfeld began to lead secret training sessions with the kill team. 

    This episode contains interviews with H. Keith Melton, intelligence historian and expert on espionage tradecraft and Eyal Yanilov, co-founder and Chief Instructor of Krav Maga Global.

    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

    • 55 min
    Baiting the Hook

    Baiting the Hook

    Herbert Cukurs invited "Anton Kuenzle" to visit him at his home, not knowing, of course, "Kuenzle" is the spy Mio, undercover. So the spy prepares for the meeting. He doesn't know what Cukurs wants, which was the real question. Most spies use a handful of motives to get people to do what they want: money, sex, patriotism. But Cukurs was an odd fish. He seemed to want to be a hero again, to be beloved. The spy couldn’t offer him that - so what could he dangle in front of the Butcher?

    CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains descriptions of violence. Listener discretion is advised.

    The spy decides on his approach. He will dangle a chance at redemption in front of the Butcher: a last shot at riches and fame. That was the bait.

    Cukurs suggests the two of them take a trip inland — he owned two plantations there. The long trip gives Cukurs a chance to see if they're being tailed. If the spy had people following him, they would be exposed on the deserted roads. The Butcher was hunting the spy as much as the spy was hunting him.

    “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 Oren Rosenbaum at UTA.

    Special thanks to Kevin Anderson and the Anderson family for permission to use the Jack Anderson recording, Leah Richardson and the Special Collections Research Center at George Washington University Library, and Ron Saah. 

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

    • 43 min
    Acquiring the Target

    Acquiring the Target

    The spy surveils his target and finally meets Herbert Cukurs — The Butcher of Latvia — in person. Mio had known people like the Butcher earlier in his life. He’d grown up in Germany during the rise of Hitler. Now he was getting to know a Nazi again, being friendly, even drinking with him. Mio kept his parents in his mind constantly. He actually dreamt about them during the mission — bad dreams. So for Mio it was something he could not forget and he could not forgive. Mio said when he was given the mission in September 1964 to assassinate Herbert Cukurs, it was like reopening a book; the unfinished story of his parents and their fate during the war. He felt there was a final chapter to be written.

    CONTENT WARNING: This episode contains descriptions of graphic violence. Listener discretion is advised.

    As Mio was making contact with Cukurs in Brazil, on the other side of the Atlantic a man named Tuviah Friedman was headed to the German capital for a meeting with the Justice Minister. He had a presentation to give, and if he succeeded with it, it would make Mio’s mission pointless. Tuviah Friedman was a Nazi hunter. In fact, Friedman was considered one of the two leading Nazi-hunters in the world, second only to the more famous activist Simon Wiesenthal. 

    Friedman had grown up in Poland. He and his family had watched the Nazis arrive. The Germans soon put them in a ghetto. Friedman saw Jews being murdered around him; his father starved himself to death so that his children would have more to eat. Friedman’s younger brother, Herschel, and his sister Itka were taken away to concentration camps, and Friedman himself was transported to a sub-camp of Auschwitz. 

    Tuviah Friedman survived the Holocaust by the sheer ferocity of his will. But his family didn’t survive. In the chaos of the post-war period, Friedman hunted down German killers. His specialty was Gestapo officers and SS men; if he saw one of their black uniforms, he would be filled with a rage that sometimes drove him to extremes. He would beat them and sometimes kill them. He was a Jewish avenger, the real thing. Other Nazi hunters never physically put their hands on their enemies. Friedman did.

    At the same time, there was another Nazi-hunting mission going on. Mossad had sent another agent to Damascus, Syria. His name was Eli Cohen. Cohen’s main mission was to find out what Syria was up to: war with Israel? building up their forces? But dozens of Nazis had fled to Syria after World War II and Eli Cohen was also hoping to eliminate them.

    This episode contains interviews with Colonel Chris Costa, former U.S. Army Intelligence officer, Senior Director for Counterterrorism at the National Security Council and currently the Executive Director of the International Spy Museum.

    “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. Special thanks to Oren Rosenbaum at UTA.

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

    • 43 min
    The Man of 100 Identities

    The Man of 100 Identities

    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.

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

    • 47 min
    The Killer's History

    The Killer's History

    Who was the Butcher of Latvia? Before World War II Herbert Cukurs was a a national hero. He put Latvia on the map. If you’re looking for an American equivalent, think Amelia Earhart or Charles Lindbergh. Cukurs was a big deal. But after the Nazis occupied Latvia, Cukurs became a monster, participating in the murder of 30,000 men, women, and even children. How did this decorated and ingenious aviator betray friends and neighbors and became a savage criminal with the blood of thousands on his hands?

    In July 1941, the Germans invaded Latvia. The Nazis fought their way into the capital, Riga, and soon sent the Soviet soldiers, who had occupied Lativa for the previous year, running to the east. Another kind of horror emerged, one now directed at Jews. 

    The Nazis began passing anti-Semitic laws. They encouraged Latvians to direct their hatred at their Jewish neighbors. They declared that Jews had helped the Soviets to occupy Latvia and carry out atrocities. They said Jews had betrayed their country, and they needed to pay for it. It was a lie of course, but it worked. Round-ups began almost immediately. What added to the terror was that it was often their fellow Latvians who took the lead in the violence

    BUt why did the Butcher kill some of his neighbors and spare others? Maybe he did it for the money? But there’s no record of him asking for any. Maybe he only saved young women? No, he actually spared at least one Jewish man, a doctor he’d known before the war. So what was it?

    The testimonies of witnesses answer one question clearly: Cukurs was guilty. So why did he still have defenders? I found half a dozen eyewitnesses to his actions, and later I came across statements from fellow Latvians in his commando unit. They confirmed he’d been part of the massacres.

    So why did he transform from hero to mass murderer? I went through other possibilities. Maybe he’d always been an anti-Semite and just hid it until the Nazis came. Maybe the Germans had forced him to kill. That was the explanation of many non-Germans who murdered Jews during the war. Maybe that was part of the answer. But then, I’d read a testimony talking about how the Butcher seemed to enjoy killing. There was more than one testiony. It just didn’t fit the idea that he was forced to do anything. 

    So I had no answers. Even the survivors in their testimonies couldn’t give a reason. Most of them were as baffled as I was. Maybe there were others who fit this pattern. Friendly towards Jews before the war and then joined in the massacres, but saved the occasional victim. Maybe there were historians who’d found killers like this, and that would help give some insight into Cukurs. I started making some calls. It was a start, a way to try to get inside Herbert Cukurs' mind.

    Learn more at DiversionPodcasts.com 
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    • 40 min

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5
1.8K Ratings

1.8K Ratings

ladybekbek ,

FANTASTIC

Informative, thorough, gripping, and eye-opening. I’ve devoured every episode.

Asc2662 ,

Great story told well!

This podcast is a great combination of entertainment and gravity in exploring a unique & little-known part of history.

Heidi Nan ,

Gripping...

Cannot stop listening, even with the gory details. Wishing Israel’s secret agent would’ve taken him out at first chance

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