The Odessa File

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For the 1974 film adaptation, see The Odessa File (film)
The Odessa File
The Odessa File - Frederick Forsyth.jpg
First edition
Author Frederick Forsyth
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Thriller novel
Publisher Hutchinson
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 310
ISBN 0-09-113020-4
Preceded by The Day of the Jackal
Followed by The Dogs of War

The Odessa File is a thriller by Frederick Forsyth, first published in 1972, about the adventures of a young German reporter attempting to discover the location of a former SS concentration-camp commander.

The name ODESSA is an acronym for the German phrase "Organisation der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen", which translates as "Organization of Former Members of the SS". The novel alleges that ODESSA is an international Nazi organisation established before the defeat of Nazi Germany for the purpose of protecting former members of the SS after the war instead of a war veterans' group.


In November 1963, shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Peter Miller, a German freelance crime reporter, follows an ambulance to the apartment of Salomon Tauber, a Jewish Holocaust-survivor who has committed suicide. The next day, Miller is given the dead man's diary by a friend in the police. After reading Tauber's life story and learning that Tauber had been in Riga Ghetto commanded by Eduard Roschmann, "The Butcher of Riga", Miller resolves to search for Roschmann. Miller's attention is especially drawn to one diary passage in which Tauber describes having seen Roschmann shoot a German Army Captain who was wearing an unusual military decoration.

Miller pursues the story and visits the State Attorney General's office and other offices where he learns that no one is prepared to search for or prosecute former Nazis. But his investigations take him to the famed war-criminal investigator Simon Wiesenthal, who tells him about the society "ODESSA".

Miller is approached by a group of Mossad agents who have vowed to search for German war criminals and kill them and have been attempting to infiltrate ODESSA. Miller is asked to infiltrate ODESSA and agrees. A former SS member who is working with the team of Israeli agents trains him to pass for a former SS sergeant. Miller visits a lawyer working for ODESSA and after passing a severe scrutiny is sent to meet a passport forger who supplies those members who wish to escape.

Slowly Miller unravels the entire system. But Miller's identity has been compromised, in part by his ill-advised decision to use his own car; the impoverished SS man he is impersonating would not have been able to afford a sports car, and ODESSA sets its top hit man on Miller's trail. Miller escapes one trap by sheer luck; the hit man then installs a bomb in Miller's car, but because the sports car has a very stiff suspension the bomb is not triggered while Miller is driving it.

Eventually Miller confronts Roschmann at gunpoint and forces him to read from Tauber's diary. Roschmann admits to killing the German Army captain, now revealed to have been Miller's father, and attempts to justify his actions to his "fellow Aryan" but is stunned when Miller bluntly says he would not have tracked down Roschmann for being a mass murderer of Jews. Miller, momentarily off guard to have found his father's killer, is disarmed and knocked unconscious by another ODESSA man who leaves in Miller's car but is killed when he drives over a snow-covered pole and detonates the bomb. Roschmann manages to escape, eventually flying to Argentina. The hit man who has been sent to kill Miller is instead killed by an Israeli agent.

While Miller is recovering in hospital, he is told what happened while he was unconscious. Josef, his contact, warns him not to tell anyone the story. He does disclose that with Roschmann (code-named "Vulkan") in Argentina, West German authorities (at the urging of the Israelis) will shut down his industrial facility that was producing rocket guidance systems for the Egyptian army. ODESSA's plan to obliterate the State of Israel by combining German technological know-how with Egyptian biological weapons has been thwarted. In addition, Miller's information reaches the public and badly embarrasses the West German authorities enough for them to arrest and prosecute a large number of ODESSA members (though the book notes that ODESSA continues to exist and usually succeeds in keeping former SS members from facing justice).

Josef, in reality Uri ben Shaul, an Israeli army officer, returns to Israel to be debriefed, and performs one final duty. He has taken Tauber's diary with him and per the last request in the diary, Uri visits Yad Vashem and says Kaddish for the soul of Salomon Tauber.

Film adaptation and SS Captain Eduard Roschmann[edit]

The film adaptation The Odessa File was released in 1974 starring Jon Voight and Maximilian Schell. It was directed by Ronald Neame with a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It is based rather loosely on the book, but it brought about the exposure of the real-life "Butcher of Riga", Eduard Roschmann. After the film was released to the public, he was arrested by the Argentinian police, skipped bail, and fled to Asunción, Paraguay where he died on 10 August 1977.

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