Is Operation Finale’s Hanna Elian Inspired by a Real Person? How Did Yonah Elian Die?

The 2018 film ‘Operation Finale’ is a historical espionage drama that recounts the identification and capture of Adolf Eichmann, also called the Architect of the Holocaust, during the Second World War. It follows the story of a group of Mossad agents who discover that Eichmann has been hiding in Argentina. The plan is to smuggle him out of there and bring him to Israel so that he can stand trial for his crimes against humanity.

It is important for the team to keep Eichmann alive, but that creates the problem of getting him out of Argentina, where he already has many supporters who will not make it easy for Mossad to get their target out. They need Eichmann in such a state that he is not able to fight back but is conscious enough to follow basic orders. This is where Dr. Hanna Elian comes in and many of you wonder is she is an actual person.

Hanna Elian is Based on a Real Doctor

Yes, Hanna Elian’s character in ‘Operation Finale’ is based on a real doctor who was tasked with keeping Adolf Eichmann sedated while getting him out of Argentina. In the movie, Hanna is a woman who has a complicated romantic history with Peter Malkin; in real life, the doctor was a man named Yonah Elian. Much like Hanna in the film, Yonah was known for his expertise in safe sedation and was particularly sought out for the mission in Argentina.

Image Credit: Bill Hunter/Wikitree

Doing his part expertly, Elian succeeded in keeping Eichmann sedated enough to keep him conscious but held back enough so that he would appear to be sickly. Unlike in the film, the mission concluded rather swimmingly. Even though Eichmann’s supporters, including his son, were looking for him, they never caught up with the Mossad agents. Despite his integral role in the mission, Elian decided to stay in the shadows as compared to other agents who spoke out about the mission publicly, giving interviews and writing books about it.

Apart from playing a part in Operation Finale, Elian’s role in another of Mossad’s missions was later brought to light. In the movie, we find Hanna conflicted about going to Argentina because of something that happened in a previous mission which led to the death of the target. It is a reference to Mossad’s first major operation in 1954, where a team was sent to capture and bring back an army officer named Alexander Israel, who was allegedly trying to sell Israel’s military secrets to Egypt.

Elian’s role was the same. He had to keep the target sedated, but things went wrong when the sedatives ended up killing Israel. In the movie, Hanna reveals that this happened because she was forced to administer more drugs than was safe. In reality, Elian told his son that while administering the sedatives, they didn’t factor in “the atmospheric conditions on the old Israeli military aircraft,” which “affected the way the captive reacted to the sedative, leading to his death.”

This case was reportedly covered up by the agency, with Elian receiving a clean chit in an internal investigation. However, this is believed to have weighed heavy on Elian throughout his life and was perhaps also the reason why he didn’t want his role glorified in the mission to bring back Eichmann. He felt that he had acted against his Hippocratic oath and had intentionally brought harm to a patient. Due to this, he never spoke out publicly about Operation Finale.

Yonah Elian Died by Suicide

Yonah Elian died by suicide at the age of 88 in 2011. He is put to rest in Kinneret, next to the Sea of Galilee. It was after his death that his son, Danny Elian, talked about his father’s role in the Mossad operation. Danny, who is also a doctor, revealed that his father had given him the needle that was used to sedate Eichmann. The needle was put on an exhibition with the rest of the things used during the mission, but he took it back when a traveling exhibition was planned in the US.

Danny revealed that his father had been so determined to not receive any recognition for Operation Finale that he didn’t accept the award bestowed by the Israeli government in 2007. Even when his family members decided to receive it on his behalf, they discovered that the award didn’t have his name. Elian somehow got them to change the name to Dr. Alef. Considering how much he wanted to distance himself from the mission, it makes sense why the makers of ‘Operation Finale’ chose to change the name, as well as the gender of the doctor in the movie.

Read More: Is Operation Finale a True Story? Was it a Real Mission?