Review: The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive, by Philippe Sands

This is history as it should be written.

Philippe Sands has taken the story of one Nazi war criminal and turned it into a sprawling tale of love, family, truth, lies and memory.

The story revolves around Otto von Wächter, an Austrian Nazi who became one of the senior figures in the German occupation regime in Poland. His colleagues and friends were tried as war criminals and were, in some cases, hanged for their crimes. Wächter escaped, dying in a hospital in Rome in 1949. Sands grew to know Wächter’s son, who believed — and continues to believe — that his father was a good man, and that while others committed crimes, Wächter did the best he could in a difficult situation. But as it becomes clear early in the book, Wächter was a moral monster, a mass murderer, part of the criminal Nazi regime and completely loyal to it.

The second part of the book which explores the question of Wächter’s death is a bit of a shaggy dog story, but still gripping because Sands knows how to tell a tale. Some may not love the author being one of the characters in a book like this — some of which is set in the present day — but I thought it worked in this case (it didn’t, for me, in Laurent Binet’s 2010 book HHhH).

Highly recommended.