Under prolonged lockdown, I’ve been reading more books than I can possibly review on BoomerBroadcast, but this one is definitely worth recommending. History buffs will enjoy reading The Ratline, The Exalted Life and Mysterious Death of a Nazi Fugitive by Philippe Sands. A new publication, it’s the true story of how senior SS Nazi officers and war criminals were able to escape allied capture in 1945 with the help and blessing of The Vatican in Rome. From there, with Red Cross passports they were able to make their way to South American or Middle Eastern countries for refuge. Not a pretty story but true and one we should be aware of.
Otto Gustav von Wächter was born in Austria in 1901 and embraced the Nazi doctrine espoused by Adolf Hitler from the early years of the party in the 1930s. Raised in an upper-middle-class family, Otto’s formal education as a lawyer would serve him well as he progressed up the ranks of the Nazi party. He secured his future and strengthened his fervent fascist beliefs by following up with military training to prepare him for roles as Hitler’s Governor in Krakow, Poland and Galicia, Austria during the pre-war and war years. His wife, Charlotte was a fellow anti-semite and together they produced six children.
One of Otto’s sons, Horst, was instrumental in providing a major portion of the documentation and research information for this book. Told in narrative style like a novel with numerous quotes from personal diaries and papers, the author gives us a chronological account of Otto’s rise and fall. Unlike many offspring of Nazi war criminals, Horst is unwilling to admit that his father was a monster who was personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jewish citizens, including the family of the author. While continuing to provide background research Horst Wächter acknowledged the evil of the Nazi regime but despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he insists that his father was one of the “good ones” who did nothing wrong.
The Ratline includes many original photographs of the historical characters and events described. We are taken on a detailed journey of one family’s actions and influence as part of Hitler’s upper circle. How the Catholic Church aided and abetted these Nazi criminals is shocking and sobering. The book opens with von Wächter’s mysterious death in 1949, retelling his rise and fall, his luxurious lifestyle, many mistresses and three years spent hiding in the mountains after the war before being assisted by the Catholic Church in Rome.
This book is a fascinating story and is a byproduct of Philippe Sands’ work as a British lawyer prosecuting “crimes against humanity”. His own family was exterminated as a result of direct orders by Otto von Wächter which brings a personal angle to the investigation.
Sands also produced a documentary for BBC, What Our Fathers Did, A Nazi Legacy about his experiences interviewing Horst von Wächter and Niklas Frank, son of another Nazi war criminal. Hans Frank who was known as The Butcher of Warsaw, was Otto von Wächter’s senior officer. Niklas Frank condemned his father and was relieved when he was hanged for his crimes.
Read the book first, then watch the two-hour documentary on Apple TV or YouTube. The story is fascinating and I couldn’t put it down..
If The Ratline by Philippe Sands is not available at your local bookstore or library, you can have it delivered to your door from Amazon by clicking here.
(Disclosure: I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thanks.)