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The Odessa File - Frederick Forsyth This novel has all the key elements of heart-stopping drama at its most intense that has made a name for Frederick Forsyth the world over.

The story begins in Hamburg in the early evening hours of November 22nd, 1963. President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX, a few hours earlier, and the news of that foul act has just reached the eyes and ears of every German. One of them is a freelance journalist nearing thirty: Peter Miller. Seated placidly in the comfort of his beloved Jaguar XK 150 S sports car, cigarette dangling from his mouth, Miller is set on going home for some good loving with his girlfriend Sigrid ("Sigi") a lovely and alluring cabaret dancer, and a good meal before sleeping. But from behind comes the harsh shrill of a siren from an ambulance. For Miller, "[a]mbulances meant trouble, and trouble could mean a story, particularly if one were first on the scene and the whole thing had been cleared up before the staff reporters arrived. It could be a major crash on the road, or a big wharf fire, a tenement building ablaze, with children trapped inside... Miller always carried a small Yashica with flash attachment in the glove compartment of his car because one never knew what was going to happen in front of one's eyes."

And so it proved within the walls of a shabby rooming house in a working class area of Hamburg. There, amid a number of police securing the scene and examining the contents of a room, which smelt heavily of gas, was found the lifeless body of a man in his 50s. He had a tired, greyish, shrunken appearance. Miller, upon showing his press credentials, tries to ascertain what is going on --- initially without success as the police are being tight-lipped. But then an old high school friend, a police inspector named Brandt, comes down the stairs of the rooming house, dressed in mufti. They meet and briefly chat.

A few days later, Miller receives a call from Brandt, offering something for him in reference to the rooming house incident. It is a diary, a testament from the dead man, a German Jew named Salomon Tauber, who had been transported to Riga in the summer of 1941 and placed in the Jewish ghetto established there by the Germans and run by the SS in the person of Captain (Hauptsturmf├╝hrer) Eduard Roschmann [a real historical figure]. Miller is riveted by the story that Tauber tells, in which he painstakingly recorded his experiences there. For 3 years, Tauber had lived so close to death, sadism and inhumanity as personified by Roschmann that, upon being shipped back to Germany in 1944 as the Soviets were about to retake Riga, he is determined to see Roschmann brought to justice for his crimes. But, upon the war's end the following year, Roschmann disappears, assuming the identity of a corporal in the German Army and spends 2 years in a POW camp. Eventually, he makes his way to his native Austria, where, after almost being found out, is helped through a network of people sympathetic to the SS, and escapes to Argentina, where he assumes a new life and career.

Several years later, feeling more secure, Roschmann returns to Germany, and by chance, is spotted by Tauber one night among friends in the middle of 1963 while on the streets of Hamburg. The old memories flood back to the surface of Tauber's consciousness. A deepening despair drives him to suicide.

Miller is so much affected by Tauber's diary that he resolves to find Roschmann and bring him to justice. What he doesn't anticipate is the opposition and hazards he will soon face, courtesy of ODESSA. Odessa is a well-organized network of former SS officers not unlike the Mafia, possessing considerable wealth and contacts within industry and various ministries of the German government.

Forsyth offers a fascinating exposition of how the SS, even as Germany was hurtling towards defeat in late 1944 and 1945, gathered up a sizable portion of the wealth it had taken from many of the Jewish dead of the Vernichtungslager (killing centers) it ran, placed much of their liquid assets in Swiss bank accounts, and made their way out of Germany. (I invite the reader of this review, if curious, to read other sources to learn about the network of people and institutions that willingly assisted SS officers to escape the clutches of the Allies.) So, once Germany began to re-establish itself and rebuild its society and economy, Odessa also benefitted from the postwar prosperity.


Miller applies his considerable investigative skills in trying to uncover Roschmann and in the process, learns that the unofficial attitude in some government circles in West Germany is to keep more or less mute any ongoing efforts to expose war criminals. The general desire among most Germans is to put the memories of the Third Reich and the war firmly in the background. Odessa gets word of Miller's efforts and sends one of their men to advise him to desist from further digging into Roschmann's background. Roschmann is a key figure in Odessa's ongoing endeavor of supplying Egypt with a coterie of German rocket scientists, who are at work there in developing missiles to be used against Israel. Miller, undeterred by threats, travels first to London and then to Vienna, where he meets the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal (another real historical figure), a Holocaust survivor who has devoted his life to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.

Eventually, with the help of Israeli agents, Miller agrees to try to infiltrate Odessa by assuming the identity of an SS officer whose war crimes were recently brought to light, necessitating that he go on the run. {This SS officer --- Rolf Gunther Kolb --- had recently died from a severe form of intestinal cancer. But the Israelis, through their German contacts, are able to alter the medical records to reflect that Kolb's cancer went into remission and Kolb himself had left the clinic of his own volition.)

At this point, the drama goes into overdrive and has a lot of twists and turns. I invite the reader of this review, if stirred into a frenzied state of curiosity, to read this novel and be entertained, educated, and THRILLED.