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

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"Hypnotic, shocking, and unputdownable." --John le Carré

From the author of the internationally acclaimed, award-winning East West Street: A tale of Nazi lives, mass murder, love, cold war espionage, a mysterious death in the Vatican--and "the Ratline," the Nazi escape route to Peron's Argentina.


Baron Otto von Wächter, Austrian lawyer, husband, father, high Nazi official, senior SS officer, former governor of Galicia during the war, creator and overseer of the Krakow ghetto, indicted after as a war criminal for the mass murder of more than 100,000 Poles, hunted by the Soviets, the Americans, the British, by Simon Wiesenthal, on the run for three years, from 1945 to 1948 . . .

Philippe Sands pieces together, in riveting detail, Wächter's extraordinary, shocking story. Given full access to the Wächter family archives--journals, diaries, tapes, and more--and with the assistance of the Wächters' son Horst, who believes his father to have been a "good man," Sands writes of Wächter's rise through the Nazi high command, his "blissful" marriage and family life as their world was brought to ruin, and his four-year flight to escape justice--to the Tirol, to Rome, and the Vatican; given a new identity, on his way to a new life via "the Ratline" to Perón's Argentina, the escape route taken by Eichmann, Mengele, and thousands of other Nazis. Wächter's escape was cut short by his mysterious, shocking death in Rome, in the midst of the burgeoning Cold War (was he being recruited in postwar Italy by the Americans and the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps or by the Soviet NKVD or by both; or was he poisoned by one side or the other, as his son believes--or by both?) . . .

An extraordinary discovery, told up-close through access to a trove of family correspondence between Wächter and his wife--part historical detective story, part love story, part family memoir, part Cold War espionage thriller.

"Breathtaking, gripping, shattering." --Elif Shafak

About the Author


PHILIPPE SANDS is an international lawyer and, since 2018, the president of English PEN. He is a frequent commentator on CNN and the BBC World Service. In 2003 he was appointed a Queen's Counsel. He lives in London.

Praise For…


"Gripping ... fascinating and important, told in vivid detail ... fiercely inquiring ... suspenseful ... extraordinary."--The New York Times Book Review

"Fascinating and haunting, a disquieting book that raises more questions than Sands could possibly answer ... a book that should be read and pondered again and again."--BookPage

"Part detective story and part love story ... Sands's ability to tease out Horst's emotional, and often contradictory, views of his father as an indicted war criminal is fascinating ... he unlocks here a series of provocative questions about culpability, collective guilt, and the advancement of international law."--LA Review of Books

"Solemn, graceful, and powerful ... rich, compulsively readable ... a far-reaching whodunit into a mysterious death, where even the dead ends are engaging; a wartime love story between a high-ranking SS official and his ambitious wife (and a subtly corrosive portrait of their bewildering and criminal delusions as they enjoy their gilded life); a story of a son who desperately struggles in spite of condemning evidence 'to find the good things' in his deeply flawed parents; an infuriating spotlight on cynically pragmatic ties between American spymasters, the Vatican, and Nazi war criminals; and, in a revelation that blindsides the reader, a resourceful probing into buried familial ties ... Sands is a reliable narrator--gracious, wise, and intrepid ... a remarkable chronicle."--Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Extraordinary ... fast-paced ... with enough twists and turns to keep the reader grimly absorbed, The Ratline is an electrifying true crime."--Evening Standard

"A gripping adventure, an astounding journey of discovery, and a terrifying and timely portrait of evil in all its complexity, banality, self-justification, and madness. A stunning achievement."--Stephen Fry

"Poignant ... shocking ... estraordinarily moving."--Daily Express

"Breathtaking, gripping, and ultimately, shattering. Philippe Sands has done the unimaginable: look a butcher in the eye and tell his story without flinching."--Elif Shafak

"A burningly necessary book. Sands makes a gently unsparing dissection of deception, love, delusion, and ineradicable evil. Elegant, painstaking, passionate, and quietly enraging."--A.L. Kennedy

"A triumph of research and brilliant storytelling."--Antony Beevor
Product Details
ISBN: 9780525520962
ISBN-10: 0525520961
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: February 2nd, 2021
Pages: 448
Language: English