As Governor of Galicia, SS Brigadesführer Otto Freiherr von Wächter presided over an authority on whose territory hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles were killed, including the family of the author’s grandfather. By the time the war ended in May 1945, he was indicted for ‘mass murder’. Hunted by the Soviets, the Americans, the Poles and the British, as well as groups of Jews, Wächter went on the run. He spent three years hiding in the Austrian Alps before making his way to Rome and being taken in by a Vatican bishop. He remained there for three months. While preparing to travel to Argentina on the ‘ratline’ he died unexpectedly, in July 1949, a few days after having lunch with an ‘old comrade’ whom he suspected of having been recruited by the Americans.
In THE RATLINE Philippe Sands offers a unique account of the daily life of a Nazi fugitive, the love between Wächter and his wife Charlotte, who continued to write regularly to each other while he was on the run, and a fascinating insight into life in Rome and among American and Soviet spies active at the start of the Cold War. Using modern medical expertise, the door is unlocked to a mystery that haunts Wächter’s youngest child, who believes his father was a good man – what was Wächter doing while in hiding, and what exactly caused his death?