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The ODESSA is an American codename (from the German: Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen, meaning: Organization of Former SS Members) coined in 1946 for a possible Nazi underground escape plan at the end of World War II by a group of SS officers with the aim of facilitating secret escape routes. The idea has been widely circulated in fictional spy novels and movies, notably Frederick Forsyth's best-selling 1972 thriller The Odessa File . The routes are also called ratlines. The goal was to allow the SS members to escape to Argentina, Brazil, or the Middle East under false passports. [1] This goal was in fact achieved by 300 Nazis with support from Juan Perón after he came to power in Argentina in 1946. [2]

<i>Schutzstaffel</i> Major paramilitary organization of Nazi Germany

The Schutzstaffel was a major paramilitary organization under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in Nazi Germany, and later throughout German-occupied Europe during World War II. It began with a small guard unit known as the Saal-Schutz made up of NSDAP volunteers to provide security for party meetings in Munich. In 1925, Heinrich Himmler joined the unit, which had by then been reformed and given its final name. Under his direction (1929–45) it grew from a small paramilitary formation to one of the most powerful organizations in Nazi Germany. From 1929 until the regime's collapse in 1945, the SS was the foremost agency of security, surveillance, and terror within Germany and German-occupied Europe.

Frederick Forsyth English novelist

Frederick McCarthy Forsyth, is an English author, journalist, spy, and occasional political commentator. He is best known for thrillers such as The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Fourth Protocol, The Dogs of War, The Devil's Alternative, The Fist of God, Icon, The Veteran, Avenger, The Afghan, The Cobra and The Kill List.

<i>The Odessa File</i> novel by Frederick Forsyth

The Odessa File is a thriller by Frederick Forsyth, first published in 1972, about the adventures of a young German reporter attempting to discover the location of a former SS concentration-camp commander.


Though an unknown number of wanted Nazis and war criminals did in fact escape Europe, the existence of an organisation called ODESSA is rejected by most experts. However it is widely accepted that there were escape organisations for Nazis. Uki Goñi maintains that archival evidence paints a picture that "does not even include an organization actually named Odessa, but it is sinister nonetheless, and weighted in favour of an actual organized escape network." [3] Guy Walters, in his 2009 book Hunting Evil , stated he was unable to find any evidence of the existence of the ODESSA network as such, although numerous other organisations such as Konsul, Scharnhorst, Sechsgestirn, Leibwache, and Lustige Brüder have been named, [1] including Die Spinne ("The Spider") run in part by Hitler's commando chief Otto Skorzeny. [4] Historian Daniel Stahl in his 2011 essay stated that the consensus among historians is that an organisation called ODESSA did not actually exist. [5] [6] Uki Goñi's book "The Real Odessa" describes the role of Juan Peron in providing cover for Nazi war criminals with cooperation from the Vatican, the Argentinean government and the Swiss authorities through a secret office set up by Peron's agents in Bern. Heinrich Himmler's secret service had prepared an escape route in Madrid in 1944. In 1946, this operation moved to the Presidential palace in Buenos Aires. Goñi states that the operation stretched from Scandinavia to Italy, aiding war criminals and bringing in gold that the Croatian treasury had stolen. [7]

Uki Goñi Argentine journalist and historian

Uki Goñi is an Argentine author. His research focuses on the role of the Vatican, Swiss authorities and the government of Argentina in organizing 'ratlines', escape routes for Nazi criminals and collaborators.

Guy Walters British writer

Guy Edward Barham Walters is a British author, historian and journalist. He is known for his writing about the Second World War.

<i>Hunting Evil</i> book by Guy Walters

Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Quest to Bring Them to Justice is a 2009 book by English historian Guy Walters. It is the first complete and definitive account of how the most notorious Nazi war criminals escaped justice at the end of World War II and managed to live normal lives as fugitives all the while many of their peers were pursued and captured. The book is based on new interviews with an array of individuals including Nazi hunters as well as former Nazis and intelligence agents. It traces back the actual escape routes, based on archival documents in Germany, Britain, the United States, Austria, and Italy. It also debunks much of the legend of the ODESSA network in the postwar era.

Origins of the term

The codeword "Odessa" – as used by the Allies – appeared for the first time in a memo dated July 3, 1946, by the American Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) whose principal role was to screen displaced persons for possible suspects. The CIC discovered that the word "ODESSA" was used at the KZ Bensheim-Auerbach internment camp for SS prisoners who used this watchword in their secret attempts to gain special privileges from the Red Cross, wrote historian Guy Walters. Neither the Americans nor the British were able to verify the claims extending any further than that. [1]

Allies of World War II Grouping of the victorious countries of World War II

The Allies of World War II, called the United Nations from the 1 January 1942 declaration, were the countries that together opposed the Axis powers during the Second World War (1939–1945). The Allies promoted the alliance as a means to control German, Japanese and Italian aggression.

Counterintelligence Corps Former intelligence agency within the United States Army

The United States Army Counter Intelligence Corps was a World War II and early Cold War intelligence agency within the United States Army consisting of highly trained Special Agents. Its role was taken over by the U.S. Army Intelligence Corps in 1961 and, in 1967, by the U.S. Army Intelligence Agency. Its functions are now performed by its modern-day descendant organization; United States Army Counterintelligence. The National Counter Intelligence Corps Association (NCICA), a veterans' association, was established in the years immediately following World War II by Military Intelligence agents who had served in every area of military and domestic operations. The organization meets annually. Its newsletter, the Golden Sphinx, is published quarterly.

Bensheim-Auerbach station railway station in Bensheim, Germany

Bensheim-Auerbach station is a station on the Main-Neckar Railway in the Bensheim district of Auerbach on the Mountain Road in the German state of Hesse. It has a heritage-listed entrance building. The station is classified by Deutsche Bahn (DB) as a category 5 station. Only Regionalbahn services stop at the 3 platform tracks.


According to Simon Wiesenthal, the ODESSA was set up in 1944 to aid fugitive Nazis. [8] However, a documentary produced by the German TV station ZDF also suggested that the ODESSA was never the single world-wide secret organisation that Wiesenthal described, but several organisations, both overt and covert, that helped ex-SS men. The truth may have been obscured by antagonism between the Wiesenthal organisation and West German military intelligence. It is known that Austrian authorities were investigating the organization several years before Wiesenthal went public with his information. [9]

Simon Wiesenthal Jewish Austrian Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter

Simon Wiesenthal was a Jewish Austrian Holocaust survivor, Nazi hunter, and writer. He studied architecture and was living in Lwów at the outbreak of World War II. He survived the Janowska concentration camp, the Kraków-Płaszów concentration camp, the Gross-Rosen concentration camp, a death march to Chemnitz, Buchenwald, and the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.

ZDF German public-service television broadcaster

Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, usually shortened to ZDF, is a German public-service television broadcaster based in Mainz, Rhineland-Palatinate. It is run as an independent nonprofit institution, which was founded by all federal states of Germany (Bundesländer). ZDF is financed by television licence fees and advertising revenues.

Similarly, historian Gitta Sereny wrote in her 1974 book Into That Darkness, based on interviews with the former commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp, Franz Stangl, that an organisation called ODESSA had never existed although there were Nazi aid organisations:

Gitta Sereny Austrian publicist and writer

Gitta Sereny, CBE was an Austrian-British biographer, historian, and investigative journalist who came to be known for her interviews and profiles of infamous figures, including Mary Bell, who was convicted in 1968 of killing two children when she herself was a child, and Franz Stangl, the commandant of the Treblinka extermination camp.

Treblinka extermination camp German extermination camp near Treblinka, Poland in World War II

Treblinka was an extermination camp, built and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland during World War II. It was located in a forest north-east of Warsaw, 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) south of the Treblinka train station in what is now the Masovian Voivodeship. The camp operated between 23 July 1942 and 19 October 1943 as part of Operation Reinhard, the deadliest phase of the Final Solution. During this time, it is estimated that between 700,000 and 900,000 Jews were killed in its gas chambers, along with 2,000 Romani people. More Jews were killed at Treblinka than at any other Nazi extermination camp apart from Auschwitz.

Franz Stangl

Franz Paul Stangl was an Austrian-born police officer who became an employee of the T-4 Euthanasia Program and an SS commander in Nazi Germany. He was the commandant of the Sobibór and Treblinka extermination camps during the Operation Reinhard phase of the Holocaust. He worked for Volkswagen do Brasil and was arrested in Brazil in 1967, extradited to West Germany and tried for the mass murder of 900,000 people. In 1970, he was found guilty and sentenced to the maximum penalty, life imprisonment. He died of heart failure six months later.

The prosecutors at the Ludwigsburg Central Authority for the Investigation into Nazi Crimes, who know precisely how the postwar lives of certain individuals now living in South America have been financed, have searched all their thousands of documents from beginning to end, but say they are totally unable to authenticate (the) 'Odessa.' Not that this matters greatly: there certainly were various kinds of Nazi aid organisations after the war — it would have been astonishing if there hadn't been. [10]

This view is supported by historian Guy Walters in his book Hunting Evil, where he also points out that networks were used, but there was not such a thing as a setup network covering Europe and South America, with an alleged war treasure. For Walters, the reports received by the allied intelligence services during the mid-1940s suggest that the appellation "ODESSA" was "little more than a catch-all term used by former Nazis who wished to continue the fight." [11]

Nazi concentration camp supervisors denied the existence of an organisation called ODESSA. The US War Crimes Commission reports and the American OSS neither confirmed nor denied claims about the existence of such an organisation. Wechsberg, who after emigrating to the United States had served as an OSS officer and member of the US War Crimes Commission, however, claimed that in interviews of outspoken German anti-Nazis some asserted that plans were made for a Fourth Reich before the fall of the Third, [12] and that this was to be implemented by reorganising in remote Nazi colonies overseas: "The Nazis decided that the time had come to set up a world-wide clandestine escape network." [13]

They used Germans who had been hired to drive U.S. Army trucks on the autobahn between Munich and Salzburg for the 'Stars and Stripes,' the American Army newspaper. The couriers had applied for their jobs under false names, and the Americans in Munich had failed to check them carefully... (the) ODESSA was organized as a thorough, efficient network... Anlaufstellen (ports of call) were set up along the entire Austro-German border... In Lindau, close to both Austria and Switzerland, (the) ODESSA set up an 'export-import' company with representatives in Cairo and Damascus. [13]

In his interviews with Sereny, Stangl denied any knowledge of a group called the ODESSA. Recent biographies of Adolf Eichmann, who also escaped to South America, and Heinrich Himmler, the alleged founder of the ODESSA, made no reference to such an organisation. However, Hannah Arendt, in her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem , states that "in 1950, [Eichmann] succeeded in establishing contact with ODESSA, a clandestine organisation of SS veterans, and in May of that year, he was passed through Austria to Italy, where a priest, fully informed of his identity, equipped him with a refugee passport in the name of Richard Klement and sent him on to Buenos Aires." [14] Notorious Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele also escaped to Brazil. [15]

Sereny attributed the escape of SS members to postwar chaos and the inability of the Catholic Church, the Red Cross and the American military to verify the claims of people who came to them for help, rather than to the activities of an underground Nazi organisation. She identified a Vatican official, Bishop Aloïs Hudal, not former SS men, as the principal agent in helping Nazis leave Italy for South America, mainly Brazil.

Of particular importance in examining the postwar activities of high-ranking Nazis was Paul Manning's book Martin Bormann: Nazi in Exile, which detailed Bormann's rise to power through the Nazi Party and as Hitler's Chief of Staff. During the war, Manning himself was a correspondent for CBS News in London, and his reporting and subsequent researches presented Bormann's cunning and skill in the organisation and planning for the flight of Nazi-controlled capital from Europe during the last years of the war—notwithstanding the strong possibility of Bormann's death in Berlin on 1 May 1945, especially in light of DNA identification of skeletal remains unearthed near the Lehrter Bahnhof as Bormann's.

According to Manning, "eventually, over 10,000 former German military made it to South America along escape routes set up by (the) ODESSA and the Deutsche Hilfsverein...". The ODESSA itself was incidental, says Manning, with the continuing existence of the Bormann Organisation a much larger and more menacing fact. None of this had yet been convincingly proven. [16]

In the realm of fiction, Frederick Forsyth's best-selling 1972 thriller The Odessa File brought the organisation to popular attention. (The novel was turned into a film starring Jon Voight.) In the novel, Forsyth's ODESSA smuggled war criminals to South America, but also attempted to protect those SS members who remained behind in Germany, and plotted to influence political decisions in West Germany. Many of the novel's readers assumed that ODESSA really existed. [17]

In the 1976 thriller novel by Ira Levin titled The Boys from Brazil , Dr. Josef Mengele, the concentration camp medical doctor who performed horrific experiments on camp victims during World War II, is involved in ODESSA. According to a young man and spy on his trail, Mengele is activating the "Kameradenwerk" for a strange assignment: he is sending out six Nazis (former SS Officers) to kill 94 men, who share a few common traits. In the book the terms "Kameradenwerk" and "ODESSA" are used interchangeably. [18]

It was mentioned in three Phoenix Force novels: Ultimate Terror (1984), The Twisted Cross (1986) and Terror In The Dark (1987). [19] It was also mentioned, sometimes in veiled terms, in Philip Kerr's 2006 novel, The One From the Other — one of Kerr's Bernie Gunther mysteries. Novelist Eric Frattini has emphasised his belief in ODESSA and incorporates elements in his novels, such as the 2010 thriller, The Mephisto's Gold. [20]

The First Order, the main antagonists from the Star Wars sequel trilogy, were based on the concept of ODESSA, in particular the theory that several Nazis escaped into Argentina. [21]

Bormann's survival and the ratline are also part of the History Channel TV series Hunting Hitler (2015-2018) in which former CIA agent Bob Baer, Gerrard Williams (author of Grey Wolf: The Escape of Adolf Hitler) and Tim Kennedy, a former member of the 7th Special Forces Group of the US Army, try to prove that Hitler might have survived WW II and fled to Argentina.[ citation needed ]

ODESSA and another secret society was mentioned in Terry Hayes' novel I am Pilgrim. In the novel, the main character, disguised as an FBI agent in Damascus, is searching for a secret passage and encounters an underground tunnel with German inscribing on a tunnel wall. Names of SS military personnel involved with the construction of the tunnel are listed.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Guy Walters (2010). Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Quest to Bring Them to Justice. Crown/Archetype. ISBN   0307592480 via Google Books, preview.
  2. Rohter, Larry (2003-03-09). "Argentina, a Haven for Nazis, Balks at Opening Its Files". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  3. Uki Goni, The Real Odessa: How Peron Brought the Nazi War Criminals to Argentina (2002) p xx.
  4. Guy Walters (2010). Hunting Evil. pp. 139–142.
  5. Daniel Stahl, "Odessa und das 'Nazigold' in Südamerika: Mythen und ihre Bedeutungen" ('Odessa and "Nazi Gold" in South America: Myths and Their Meanings') Jahrbuch fuer Geschichte Lateinamerikas (2011), Vol. 48, pp 333-360.
  6. Oliver Rathkolb. Revisiting the National Socialist Legacy: Coming to Terms With Forced Labor, Expropriation, Compensation, and Restitution. Transaction Publishers. pp. 271, 291.
  7. "The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Peron's Argentina". Foreign Affairs (January/February 2003). 2009-01-28. ISSN   0015-7120 . Retrieved 2018-05-19.
  8. Organization of Former SS Members (ODESSA). The SS (Schutzstaffel). Jewish Virtual Library.
  9. Mysteryquest, Rise of the Fourth Reich (Season 1, Episode 6)
  10. Gitta Sereny, Into That Darkness (Pimlico 1974), p. 274.
  11. Guy Walters, Hunting Evil p. 215, Bantam Books, Transworld Publishers, London 2010.
  12. Wechsberg, The Murderers Among Us (New York, 1967), p. 80
  13. 1 2 Wechsberg, The Murderers, p. 82
  14. Hannah Arendt (1963). Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York: Viking.
  15. David Cesarini, Eichmann: His Life and Crimes (Vintage 2004); Peter Padfield: Himmler: Reichsfuhrer SS (Macmillan 1990)
  16. Manning, P. (1981). Martin Bormann, Nazi in Exile (in Italian). Stuart. p. 181. ISBN   978-0-8184-0309-5 . Retrieved 2019-07-31.
  17. Guy Walters (2010). Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Quest to Bring Them to Justice. Crown Publishing Group. pp. 139, 156.
  18. John Sutherland (2010). Bestsellers: Popular Fiction of the 1970s. Taylor & Francis. pp. 187–88.
  19. Gar Wilson (1986). Chip Off the Bloc. Worldwide.
  20. Eric Frattini (2008). The Entity: Five Centuries of Secret Vatican Espionage. St. Martin's Press. p. 392.
  21. Dyer, James (August 25, 2015). "Kylo Ren Is Not A Sith". Empire Magazine. Retrieved August 25, 2015.

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