The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’d previously watched documentaries on YouTube about the Odessa, the supposed covert organisation that assisted former SS officers to escape detection. It seems that in real life, it didn’t necessarily exist in the single coherent form described in the book, but variants of it, smaller groups around Europe and South America, almost certainly did. The presence of high-ranking Nazis in South America, particularly in Argentina under the Peron regime, is well known. I approached the book with anticipation, then, wondering how these topics would be dealt with.
The main character, Peter Miller, is a young journalist enjoying life in 1963 Hamburg, out at night on the day of John F Kennedy’s assassination, doing a spot of ambulance-chasing, when he encounters the apparent suicide of a middle-aged Holocaust survivor. Upon obtaining this man’s diary, Miller is drawn, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear at first, on a manhunt to apprehend a certain SS officer called Eduard Roschmann, the ‘Butcher of Riga’ (who really did exist).
The story adds a strong plot thread in the form of the involvement of the Israeli Mossad who want to prevent the Egyptian regime under Nasser from obtaining rockets that could be used to attack Israel. As Miller is drawn into infiltrating the Odessa to track down Roschmann, the Mossad are keen to use him, as a non-Jewish German, to find out about German scientists helping the Egyptian regime.
Excellent, gripping storytelling and good characterisation–I certainly enjoyed it, while learning a great deal of post-war political history poignantly combined with the tragic and horrific realities of the Holocaust and its aftermath.