on July 10, 2008
The Real Odessa: Smuggling the Nazis to Peron's Argentina. Uki Goni. New York: Granta Books, 2002, 382 pp. $29.95.
Reviewed by Kenneth Maxwell, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2003
A chilling, detailed story of one of Argentina's most shameful secrets: the enthusiastic role of dictator Juan Peron in providing cover for major Nazi war criminals as the Third Reich collapsed, allowing them to lead prosperous and protected lives after the war. Few characters get off easily in this passionate account, which untangles the networks and escape mechanisms that made it all possible. Coming to Peron's assistance were numerous institutions and individuals: the Vatican, the Argentinean Catholic Church, the Argentinean government, and the Swiss authorities who cooperated through a secret office set up by Peron's agents in Bern. Operatives from Heinrich Himmler's secret service arrived in Madrid as early as 1944 to prepare an escape route; in 1946, this operation moved to Buenos Aires, establishing its headquarters in the presidential palace. Eventually, this operation's tentacles stretched from Scandinavia to Italy, aiding French and Belgian war criminals and bringing in gold that the Croatian state treasury had stolen from 600,000 Jewish and Serb victims of the Ustasha regime. Ingrained antisemitism, anticommunism, greed, and corruption all fortified these clandestine protection rackets. Today, the stain remains, as does the secrecy. This astonishing book delineates in gripping detail what was long suspected -- and also hints at how much remains to be told.
on July 7, 2010
A solidly researched, well-written piece of work on the Argentine side of the ratlines smuggling Nazi war criminals out of Europe after WWII. After reading Uki Goni's book, you'll never look quite the same way at the Vatican, the Red Cross, the Perons, or British and U.S. intelligence for that matter.
Goni, an Argentine journalist and son of a diplomat, was able to write this book despite government displeasure at his work, probably because he was too high profile to "disappear."
This review is kind of a twofer. I bought The Real Odessa after reading Phillip Kerr's A Quiet Flame. The Real Odessa was his source material. Like all great writers, Kerr bases his Bernie Guenther novels -- fiction -- on well-researched facts and intelligent speculation.
on December 9, 2010
It is getting dark in the Alps. A night trip begins. The journey starts from the local Church in the town of Vinaders close to Insbruck in Austria. The path is exhausting and steep going through the Alps. First you reach the Italian border, and then descend to Brennerbad and reach the local Church there. This might sound like the kind of adventurous hike organized by a local tourist agency today. In 1945 as the Second World War came to an end, this night hike was undertaken many times by travelers who where in fact Nazi war criminals. They were guided by members of a secret agency soon to be known as the ODESSA. Their aim was to escape from justice and head for freedom in Latin America. Hardcore Nazis, Ustashi, Belgian Raxists and Slovaks were among the many fugitives who, as Uki Goni reveals in his book "The Real ODESSA", escaped from war-torn Europe for a new life and a new identity in Argentina and, later on, countries such as Paraguay and Uruguay.
Since the end of the war, the subject of how Nazi war criminals were smuggled into South America has been speculated over by journalists, historians and even fictional writers, notably Frederick Forsyth in his novel "The ODESSA File". "The Real ODESSA" is one of the first books to describe in detail the inner workings of this secret organization, the existence of which has been denied for many years. The night trip mentioned above is one such detail revealed by the Argentine-born author who describes other similar escape routes or "ratlines."
Perhaps the most revealing aspects of Goni's book are to do with the collaboration of the Argentinian government, led by President Juan Peron, and the fleeing Nazis, who found a safe haven in Argentina and some of the surrounding countries. Goni did an incredible amount of research in the Argentinian national archives, particularly immigration records. He manages to identify about three hundred war criminals who were provided with a safe haven in Argentina, among them Erik Priebke, Gerhard Bohne, Jozef Schwammberger as well as the creams of the crop, Jozef Mengele and Adolf Eichman.
After doing six years of research and conducting hundreds of interviews, Goni expertly highlights the complicity of Juan Peron's government, as well as the involvement of Vatican priests, in allowing these mass murderers to escape justice. The ease with which the war criminals were able to emigrate to Argentina contrasts with the difficulties faced by Jews who, when trying to escape persecution in Nazi Germany, were denied entry to Argentina. Goni devotes an entire chapter, titled "War Games", which describes how Juan Peron and Hitler deliberately made it impossible for Jews to find a safe haven in Argentina by branding them as undesirable.
The revelations in Goni's excellent book are explosive and embarrassing, even damaging. In 1996, when officials within the Argentine government became aware of Goni's research, they panicked and tried to burn all the documents in the archives. However, fortunately for historians, researchers and the public, Goni had already discovered much of the truth about Peron's close association with the Nazis and the involvement of anti-communist Vatican officials like Bishop Hudal. Goni reveals that it was Peron's intention, with Hudal's support, to get as many Nazis into Argentina, believing them to be "freedom fighters" against communism.
Compared to the number of war criminals who successfully escaped justice, very few were brought to trial and punished. This book, whilst a work of non-fiction by a journalist, sometimes reads like a novel, proving the old adage that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Goni has revealed an incredible amount of detail in his book though there remains much more in the archives. However, whilst it is not always possible to highlight everything it is important, according to Goni in an interview with the History Channel, that "we need to get as close to the truth as possible".
on December 23, 2009
This is a very good account of the fleeing to Argentina but readers should keep in mind that this was only one country who offered a safe haven to war criminals. The Real Odessa chronicles how Perón's government brought Nazi war criminals to Argentina yet ignores the other countries who did the very same thing for a wide variety of reasons. The five primary hiding places were Syria, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, and... ta-da! --the United States. I would like to see a more complete history of the help given to Nazis. Some countries did it for pay, the United States for intelligence information. In either case, murderers were knowingly set free among citizens of five nations.
on December 8, 2010
I will not get into a long review on the book, as others have already stated the books solid case. What i will say is this...Out of many books on the subject of the nazi war criminals post-war escapes, this is the one that really illuminated much new information on the subject and re-confirmed many past rumors, etc...It was solidly researched, and I commend Uki Goni as I know this had to have been a long, difficult task to compile this information.
I highly recommend this book.
on September 29, 2011
Goni provides a very detailed account of post-war Argentina and its relationship with Germany. For a serious student of WW2, or its immediate aftermath, this would be a compelling read. For other, it may be too intense.
on August 23, 2015
This deserves much wider attention than it has. Peronistas were unable to shred or burn the documents of foreign intelligence agencies; thus, leaving the way open for Uki Goni to piece the story back together. Most surprising is the revelation that Peron was a complete adherent of National Socialism. Bringing the Nazi's in to Argentina was more of a ego trip as it served to prop up his own romantic illusions.
Highly readable and recommended
on February 1, 2014
Expatriate Nazis, Belgian Rexists, Italian Fascists, Spanish Fallangists, Romanian Iron Guardists, Hungarian Arrow Crossers, French Vichyists, Croatian Ustashists, et cetera, all gathered in post-Second World War Argentina under the protection of President Juan Perón (1946-55; 1973-4). Though this has long been known, no one has really ever said why or how it happened. And while the vast majority of the details of this strange episode in Euro-American history are lost forever, this book by journalist Uki Goñi, the product of six years of research in Argentine, American, British, Belgian and Swiss archives (itself a great story) contains most everything we are ever likely to know.
The interest in a viable political alternative to Far Right Capitalism and Far Left Communism, The so-called Third Position, along with the inevitability of a Third World War, and the evil of Jews, were all things the Argentine ruling elite and the Nazis believed. Argentina was also interested in a militarized Catholic state and saw Europe's loss as its gain. His 'monolithic sense of military honor' offended by Nuremberg, Perón became determined to rescue as many European Far Right fugitives as possible, allow them to settle in Argentina, and benefit from their military and technical expertise, as well as whatever gold and cash they could manage to smuggle in. This was the ideological genesis of the Rat Line, a conduit for escaped war criminals and their families to flee Europe and reach South America. Seemingly paradoxically, it began in earnest with Argentina's allegiance with the Allies and declaration of war against Nazi Germany. This, as the Germans understood well, gave Argentina the right to enter Germany after the war and begin smuggling war criminals out.
But other, even more secret avenues were opened by Argentine operatives in collaboration with various European groups such as the Deutsche Hilfsverein, and individuals such as Vatican Bishop Aloïs Hudal, an Argentine cardinal named Antonio Caggiano, and Croatian priest Krunoslav Draganović, and German-Argentine Rodolfo Freude. The mythical ODESSA (Simon Wiesenthal's misunderstanding that several open and covert Nazi-smuggling organizations were somehow conspiratorially linked together), though it never existed as such, was actually a compilation of all these things. Over 10,000 former German military made it to South America along these escape routes, and many of these settled in or passed through Argentina. These escape routes, their proprietors, the escapees themselves and their fates, are the subject of this book.
This is a fascinating piece of history, incomplete as it must remain, for which we should thank Mr Goñi for his efforts in putting it together. The only significant step which remains now is opening the Vatican archives from this period. Maybe the current Pope, an Argentine by birth, will take such a step?
on August 2, 2013
Absolutely riveting despite being quite long. Well researched. Saga of the escape of high level Nazis from Europe at the end of WWII with the complicity of several governments (in both hemispheres) as well as the Vatican. Most worthwhile.
on November 22, 2008
Great book on the tie of Argentina to Hitlers Germany during WWII. Excelelnt insight into how the criminals were tracked down and why. Good stuff and very interesting.