May 25, 2009

Books: The Real Odessa by Uki Goni

It is common knowledge that a number of Nazi war criminals ended up living in South America, and Argentina in particular. What this book deals with, however, is investigating the policy decisions and intricate systems set up to make it happen. Six years of research and interviews took Argentinian journalist and writer Uki Goni to several different parts of the world trying to piece together what actually happened in the last years of the war and in the immediate post-war period ~ a task made even more challenging when he was informed that key immigration files had been destroyed in a bonfire as recently as 1996 by officials of the Peronist government of Carlos Menem.

The book relates how the Argentinian governments of the thirties and forties were openly supportive of Europe's fascist regimes and had an official immigration policy to refuse entry to Jews fleeing the Nazi regime.

It also goes into remarkable detail (given how much documentation has been destroyed or conveniently lost in Argentina) as to how an efficient network of contacts was built up in Europe designed to help collaborators in France, Belgium and members of the Croatian Ustashi escape once it was clear the tide was turning against Hitler in the war, and later to Nazis themselves.

The book reveals the alarming to which the Vatican were involved in helping known war criminals obtain travel permits and passports under assumed names, more as a move against communism than as a direct support of what the Nazis had been doing, and also how, to some extent both Britain and the US were also guilty of turning a blind eye to some of the people who were fleeing as attention started to focus more on the beginning of the Cold War.

The Real Odessa is a goldmine of information and demonstrates quite clearly how a small group of like-minded people with power and influence in Argentina were able to harbour some of the biggest war criminals of the Second World War with practically no intervention from the rest of the world. Highly recommended.

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