The Ratline by Philippe Sands

Brendan’s Alternate Tagline for The Ratline:

Nazi blood runs deep.

Quick synopsis:

The story of Nazi Otto van Wachter and his family.

Fun Fact Non-History People Will Like:

The path many Nazis took to avoid prosecution was called the “Ratline.” I don’t know of a term that was so apt.

Fun Fact for History Nerds:

Punishing the architects of the Holocaust required the legal use of a term we know today pretty well: “crimes against humanity.” It was used before but was never used to charge a government for killing its own people.

My Take on The Ratline:

This book packs a lot in.

The biography portion is straightforward enough. Otto van Wachter was a high-level Nazi. He was an active killer who very often hid behind his jobs being classified “administrative.” There is no point where you believe he wasn’t a murderer. Oh, and he might have been murdered. I won’t say more.

The other portion of this book is where I was riveted and enraged. Philippe Sands, the author, got his start on this book by first creating a documentary and then a podcast based around the sons of two Nazis. Hans Frank’s son and Otto’s son, Horst. Horst appears throughout the book as he continues to try and frame his father as a cog in the machine and not an active murderer. Read for yourself, but “unconvincing” is not a strong enough term to describe him.

However, Horst’s refusal to accept facts is fascinating. After all, don’t we always want to believe the best about our families even in the face of overwhelming evidence? Horst’s closeness with his mother (spoiler alert: she’s no saint herself) adds another level of interest.

The book would be great either as a historical biography or psychological profile. It happens to be both.


A great book on multiple fronts. It is part biography, part history, part investigation, and finally part psychological profile of the children of Nazis. Buy it here!

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The Ratline by Philippe Sands
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