How did thousands of Nazis, war criminals, and collaborators manage to flee Europe at the end of the Second World War, evading arrest and prosecution? Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s ‘Odessa’ theory claimed that a vast secret organization coordinated their escape, with the aim of then constructing a Fourth Reich. But whilst Odessa appealed to novelists and film-makers, it is now acknowledged to be fictitious.
The truth is more complex, and more intriguing. Gerald Steinacher is the first person to uncover the full extent of the secret escape routes and hiding places ‘ratlines’ that smuggled Nazis out of Europe, through South Tyrol, across the Alps into Italy, and onward to Argentina and elsewhere. His ground-breaking research in the archives of the ICRC in Geneva brought to light the fact that the Red Cross supplied travel papers to war criminals – amongst them Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele.
In this video Steinacher talks more about his findings.
Gerald Steinacher is a Joseph A. Schumpeter Research Fellow at the Center for European Studies at Harvard University and Lecturer on Contemporary History at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. He is the author of Nazis on the Run: How Hitler’s Henchmen Fled Justice. He has previously written this post for OUPblog.