‘The Ratline: The Exalted Life and Mysterious Death of a Nazi Fugitive,’ by Philippe Sands: An Excerpt

‘The Ratline: The Exalted Life and Mysterious Death of a Nazi Fugitive,’ by Philippe Sands: An Excerpt

We returned from the album to photographs, family life stories, children and grandparents, festivities and holidays in the mountains. Wächters together, a satisfied family. There were lakes, and a picture of Otto swimming, the only one I would ever see. “My father loved to swim,” Horst said. On the page a man smiling and a chisel with a chisel carved into the 1933 wall. A man stood outside a building, greeted by a line of arms raised in a Nazi salute. Dr. Goebbels It said under the picture. Three men in conversation, in a covered yard. Two letters below the picture, A.H. This was Otto’s angular writing. Adolf Hitler with Heinrich Hoffman, I will learn, his photographer and a third man. “Not my father,” Horst said. “Maybe Baldur von Schirch.” It was a reference to the head of Hitler Youth, who was also convicted in Nuremberg, whose grandson Ferdinand was a good writer.

We turned more pages. Vienna, autumn 1938, Opho in a different SS uniform, in his office at Hoffberg Palace. Poland, autumn 1939, a burnt building, refugee. A crowded street, people dressed against the cold, an old woman in a headscarf, a white armlet. A Jew photographed by Charlotte in the Warsaw Ghetto. A picture of Horst, with his four sisters. “March 1943, Lemberg,” Charlotte wrote below. A day of bright sun, with long shadows. A note from Horst to Otto. “Dear Father, I have raised you some flowers, kisses, yours, Horsti-Borsti.” In 1944 he was five years old.

We danced to more delicate subjects. He asked about my grandfather, kept quiet on details. I inquired about their parents and their relationship. “My mother believed my father was right, he did the right thing.” He never spoke any bad words about her, not in Horst’s presence, but he realized there was a dark side. “Of course, I felt guilty about my father.” He knew of the “terrible things” that the regime had done, but it was only later that they infiltrated daily life. The post-war period was a time of silence. Nobody in Austria wanted to talk about events, not then, not now. He encountered difficulties with his nieces and nephews with the family, but no details were given.

We passed in other matters. Charlotte wanted Horst to be a successful lawyer like her father, but she chose another life. No further study, he told Charlett, she would disappear into the forest. “Bye-bye mother.” She was so disappointed that she found her way. In Vienna, in the early 1970s, he was joined by a painter, Friedensreich Handerwater and two men. “I knew Hunderwetser would need me, we would get along, because he was a shy person, like me.” Horst worked as an assistant to the artist, leaving his boat Regentag– “Rainy Day” – Venice from New Zealand, with his new wife, Jacqueline. During that trip their only child was born, a daughter, Magdalena. It was 1977.

“Somehow, that Handwater Jewry was good for my feelings,” Horst continued. “Maybe with you too, Philip, because you are Jewish, somehow it is attractive to me.” The artist’s mother feared Horst. “He knew my father’s name, which he was walking around with a Star of David, with his experiences in war.”. As he said his fingers danced across his arm, where an armband might However, he explained, his father’s historical responsibility was a complex matter. Otto was against racial principles, not seeing the Germans as Superman and all the others Untermenschen. “He wanted to do something good, to find solutions to problems after the first war.”

He was Horst’s vision. His father was a decent man, an optimistic man who tried to do good but who was trapped in the horrors by others.

I listened patiently, not wanting to disturb the atmosphere of our first meeting.

A few days later, in London, I received a message from Horst. “I appreciated your visit to Hagenburg, to know the tragic story of my grandfather’s family in Lemberg.” He offered the address to a man from Lamberg, about whose life he said his father had saved, a Polish Jew. Subsequently, he said, “the appalling condition of the Jews was generally accepted”Shaksal. “This word meant destiny.” As per his position, he said that my visit has brought relief to his recluse. Other family members did not want to talk about the past, and were critical of their efforts. They did not wish for a spotlight on the life of Otto von Vactor.



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