The Ratline: The Exalted Life and Mysterious Death of a Nazi Fugitive

Knopf. Feb. 2021. 448p. ISBN 9780525520962. $30. BIOG
Human rights attorney Sands (East West Street) offers a real-life thriller that is stranger than fiction. Otto von Wächter (1901–49) was an Austrian senior Nazi official who became governor of Kraków, was involved in the assassination of an Austrian chancellor, and was complicit in the mass genocide of Jews. Indicted for mass murder, he vanished in 1945. In an attempt to clear his father’s name, and to shed light on his father’s mysterious death in 1949, von Wächter’s youngest son, Horst Wächter, made available 10,000 family documents to the author, including letters and diaries. Sands uses these documents, supplemented with firsthand interviews, to tell the story of what happened to von Wächter after his disappearance, which includes fleeing to the high Austrian Alps and receiving assistance from both an alpinist SS soldier and a bishop from the Vatican. Sands also sheds light on the ratline, secret channels that helped Nazi refugees flee and evade capture. A cast of characters at the beginning of the book, along with photographs, illustrations, and maps throughout, give context to the historical details.
VERDICT Full of twists and turns, cover-ups and complicity, this gripping historical thrill ride will appeal to fans of John le Carré.
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