When he stepped aboard the Israeli military patrol boat the Yarkon on June 1, 1962, little did Yair Vinderboim imagine that he was about to play a role in a significant episode in the nation’s history.
A sergeant major and electronics expert in the Israeli Navy, Vinderboim was in charge of the radar on board the Yarkon as it left Israel’s territorial waters that day. Shortly thereafter, what he recalled as “a small jar” was dropped into the sea in international territory. The jar, he soon learned, contained the cremated ashes of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi officer who was a pivotal player in masterminding the deportation and extermination of millions of Europe’s Jews.
Following Germany’s defeat in World War II, Eichmann fled to Austria, then Argentina, where he spent 11 years in hiding. In 1960, he was tracked down and captured by Mossad agents, then spirited out of Argentina and brought to Israel. Following a nine-month trial, Eichmann was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.
Because Israeli officials were determined that his gravesite not become a shrine for Nazi sympathizers, they chose to cremate his body and bury the ashes at sea.
While shipmates steered the Yarkon beyond Israeli territory, Vinderboim was given the crucial job of guiding the vessel through dark, murky waters to and from the port in Haifa. It was an era before global positioning satellites had been invented to augment radar systems, and he had to make sure that the boat traveled through safe waters and was not subject to attack from Arab patrols.
“I was sent to the boat but I had no idea why,” he told NJJN at his home in Morristown. “I was just sitting on the boat in case something went wrong with the electronics.”
Then he heard a commotion on the bridge as a crewmate dumped the jar of ashes into the sea. As he looked back on the moment nearly 56 years later, he said he felt the mission was neither one of honor or distaste.
But at the age of 80, Vinderboim recalls many proud moments during his life in Israel.
He was born to Polish immigrant parents in Afula in 1937. “I had a good time as a kid,” he said, but when he was 11, he remembered being “scared every night when we had to go to the shelter” during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
At 18 Vinderboim entered the Israeli Navy in 1955 and began studying electronics at the Technion in Haifa in a program for teenagers. He subsequently served on a destroyer and a torpedo boat, and saw combat in the Sinai Campaign of 1956. He left the Navy in 1963.
“I enjoyed every minute of my time in the Navy — except when I got shot at — and I still miss my time in the Navy,” Vinderboim told NJJN.
Afterward he worked at Israel’s Ministry of Defense, but he declined to describe his responsibilities. “What I did there is a secret,” he said, smiling.
Vinderboim said that some of his happiest moments in Israel were spent riding a motorcycle that he had painted a sporty red.
When his close friend Linda Forgosh, executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of NJ, spotted a photo of him and a Navy buddy, Menachem Moser, seated on the motorcycle, she said, “It was like looking at a picture of Tyrone Power,” a handsome movie actor of the 1940s and 50s.
Vinderboim put motorcycling behind him when he moved to the United States in 1965 with his wife, two sons, and daughter. They settled first in Brooklyn. After three months, the family relocated to Parsippany, then Rockaway, where he began a 40-year career as an engineer at Hewlett-Packard’s plant in Paramus. He is now retired.