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ODESSA (from German: Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen, meaning: "Organization of Former SS Members") is an alleged organization that helped former SS members escape punishment for alleged crimes, such as alleged involvement in the Holocaust. The name initially appeared in 1946, stated to have been used by some SS prisoners at one prison camp to refer to attempts to gain privileges from the Red Cross. However, the name is more known from its appearances in Frederick Forsyth's best-selling 1972 thriller The Odessa File and various other fictional descriptions. Most experts reject the existence of ODESSA, but various other individuals and organizations are stated to have helped former NSDAP members and others to escape.

Fictional Group

Forsyth's novel purports ODESSA was an international National Socialist organization established before the defeat of National-Socialist Germany for the purpose of protecting former members of the German SS after the war. The word “ODESSA” was used by Forsyth based on a German acronym meaning “Organization of former SS Members” (German: ORGANISATION DER EHEMALIGEN SS-Angehörigen).


The book became an international bestseller. A successful movie based on the book featured U.S. actor John Voight and several German and Austrian actors like Maximillian Schell .

Use by Jewish Political Groups

The book and the film both created the illusion in the popular mind that such a group existed. This became an vehicle to keep pressure on the German Governement to increase the financial tribute to Israel and individual Jews. ODESSA would later be used by professional "Nazi Hunters" like the Jews Simon Wiesenthal or the Klarsfelds in France to refer to any group which aided the escape of SS members from Europe. See the articles on trials such as the Nuremberg trials and Dachau trials, regarding criticisms of postwar trials of SS members and others.

Germans Who Escaped Allied Capture

The alleged purpose of such groups were to establish and facilitate secret escape routes, out of Germany to countries in the Middle East and South America.

Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny and Sturmbannführer Alfred Naujocks were both believed to have been active in such organizations, but these suppositions have never been proven. Also it has been alleged General Reinhard Gehlen’s entire intelligence organization, which was employed and protected by U.S. intelligence, facilitated the escape of high value Germans. In Argentina, Rodolfo Freude was allegedly a member of an National Socialist aid network. It is alleged that Hans-Ulrich Rudel was active in Argentina. Alois Brunner is alleged to have escaped to Syria.

Persons claiming to represent ODESSA claimed responsibility in a note for the 9 July 1979 car bombing in France aimed at Jewish supremacist and left-wing activists Serge and Beate Klarsfeld.

Reality Behind the Fiction

Other sources, such as many interviews by the Jewish organized and dominated ZDF the "official" "German" state TV station with former SS men, suggest that ODESSA never was the single world-wide secret organization that Wiesenthal described, but that there were several organizations, both overt and covert (including the CIA and several Latin American governments), that helped ex-SS men.

ODESSA A Myth, Mutual Assistance Not

Long before the ZDF TV network, Jewish historian Gitta Sereny wrote in her 1974 book Into That Darkness, wrote: “The prosecutors at the Ludwigsburg Central Authority for the Investigation into National Socialist Crimes, who know precisely how the postwar lives of certain individuals now living in South America have been financed, have searched all their thousands of documents from beginning to end, but say they are totally unable to authenticate ‘Odessa.’ Not that this matters greatly: there certainly were various kinds of National Socialist aid organizations after the war -- it would have been astonishing if there hadn’t been.”

Postwar Chaos Facilitated Escapes

Based on interviews with the former commander of the camp at Treblinka, Franz Stangl, ODESSA had never existed. Stangl denied any knowledge of a group called ODESSA. Recent biographies of Adolf Eichmann (who also escaped to South America) and Heinrich Himmler, the alleged founder of ODESSA, make no reference to such an organization. Sereny attributed the fact that SS members could escape more to postwar chaos and the inability of the Roman Catholic Church, the Red Cross, and the American military to verify the claims of people who came to them for help than to the activities of an underground organization. She identifies a Vatican official, Bishop Aloïs Hudal, not former SS men, as the principal agent in helping National Socialists leave Italy for South America.

Uki Goñi, in his 2002 book The Real Odessa: Smuggling the National Socialists to Perón’s Argentina suggests that Sereny’s more complex, less conspiratorial, story is closer to the truth. The book prompted a US House of Representatives resolution in 2003, urging Argentina to open their hitherto secret documents concerning this matter.

Escapes to South America

Of particular importance in examining the postwar activities of high-ranking National Socialists is Paul Manning’s book Martin Bormann: National Socialist in Exile which details Martin Bormann’s rise to power through the National Socialist Party and as Hitler’s Chief of Staff. During the war, Manning himself was a correspondent for the fledgling CBS News along with Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite in London, and his reporting and subsequent researches present Bormann’s cunning and skill in the organization and planning for the flight of National Socialist-controlled capital from Europe during the dimming years of the war (notwithstanding the possibility of Bormann’s death in Berlin on May 1, 1945).

According to Manning, “eventually, over 10,000 former German military made it to South America along escape routes set up by the Deutsche Hilfsverein…”. While Manning makes no mention of an "ODESSA", the continuing existence of the Bormann Organization is, according to him, a reality. None of this was ever convincingly proved.


From December 2002, the Argentine government in Buenos Aires refused calls from the Wiesenthal Center for the release of 58 files dealing with the escape of National Socialists to Argentina. In July 2003, two of the files were opened.

Also, Argentina’s government had, in 1938 (on the verge of World War II, and with Hitler’s politics regarding Jews already on the move), sanctioned an immigration law restricting access to any individual scorned or forsaken by his country’s government. This was implicitly targeted for Jews and other minorities fleeing Germany at the time. This law was discovered and denounced by Argentine writer Uki Goñi. This legislation, though already in disuse for many years, was finally repealed on 8 June 2005.

See also