This book is written by Argentine journalist Uki Goni and tells the shocking story of the escape of Axis war criminals to Argentina after WW2.
The book starts with a list of abbreviations and key players, after that the book is roughly divided in 3 parts.
1. War games
2. Peron leaps to power
3. Undesirable immigration
4. The abandonment of Argentina’s Jews
5. Extortion of the Jews
6. The Nazi escape begins
7. Cardinal recommendations
8. Peron’s Odessa
9. Digging for clues
This first part of the book is about the close relation between Argentine diplomats on one side and high ranking Nazi’s, Spanish, Italian and other European fascists, and with the Vatican and Catholic Church in general on the other side. A secret alliance between Argentine and Germany increased their influence in South-America.
After Juan Peron came to power he signed a secret order (Directive 11) to stop the emigration of European Jews to Argentina. This Directive forbid the distribution of visa to Jews. Several diplomats made a lot of money by selling visa to Jews. Knowing what happened with Jews in occupied Europe we can conclude these corrupt diplomats saved the lives of many Jews. This part makes it also clear Peron and the people around him were very anti-Semitic. For example German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop asked several times to allow Argentine Jews in Germany, Holland and France to return back to their home country. They got no permission from Argentina and ended in concentration camps.
10. Criminal ways
11. The Nordic route
12. The Swiss connection
13. The Belgian way
14. The Slovak committee
15. Flight of the Ustashi
16. A Roman “Sanctuary”
After the long introduction in part 1 the different escape routes and stories are described. It’s remarkably to see that some countries like Sweden and Norway undertook no action against some escapes. There’s also a chapter about the role of Switzerland as a transit country for Nazi’s and other war criminals to South-America. In this story the KLM (Dutch airline company) plays also an important role. They knew they transported war criminals to South-America, but earning money was more important for them than justice.
Also the post-war story of the Slovakian war criminal Ferdinand Durchansky and the Croat Ustasha organization is mentioned in the book. The British and American gave these people protection against extradition to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia because of their anti-communist activities. It’s clear the Cold War was started at that time.
At the end of this part the author gives a closer look on the role of the Catholic Church and especially Bishop Alois Hudal in the escape to South-America. Hudal became “the greatest and best friend” of the fugitive Nazi’s because of his involvement in their escape.
17. Erich Priebke
18. Gerhard Bohne
19. Josef Schwammberger
20. Josef Mengele
21. Adolf Eichmann
The last 5 chapters are about the activities of more famous Nazi’s during and after war.
At the end of the book Uki Goni gives his conclusion and an afterword. This afterword, written for the British edition of The Real Odessa, gives some extra info about the involvement of the Catholic Church and British and American authorities.
The book includes a list with notes, document sources, bibliography and index.
Before I read this book I didn’t know much about this dark post-war history and I hoped to read exciting stories about men who escaped to Spain via the Pyrenees or hidden on a boat to Argentine. But in most cases it were “paper” escape routes, if these war criminals had the right papers, in example from the Red Cross, the escape was in most cases reasonable easy.
It’s shocking to read about the help Nazi’s and other war criminals got from Argentina, Catholic Church/Vatican and even sometimes countries who had suffered under German occupation.
In my opinion (English is not my first language) the book uses difficult words and sentences, maybe this is caused by the translation from Spanish to English.
The structure of this book is a little bit confusing and jumps sometimes from subject to subject. In example in chapter 3, 4 and 5 the measures against immigration of Jews to Argentina are described. In the following chapters the key players in the escapes are mentioned, but in chapter 8 the measures against Jews are mentioned again.
Despite my negative comments on some aspects of this book it’s very informative and a good buy.
(Reviewed by William Van Dijk)