The ODESSA (Organisation der Ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen – “Organization of Former SS Members”) is a fictitious organization allegedly set up towards the end of World War II by a group of high-ranking SS officers.
Fictitious because that there is not a shred of evidence that such an organization ever existed (only unsubstantiated claims and rumors). This organization became globally known after the 1972 publication of a best-selling novel “The ODESSA File” by Frederick Forsyth and the subsequent (1974) release of an espionage-thriller movie under the same title.
There are three conspiracy theories (setting up any organization is a conspiracy of sorts) about the objectives of ODESSA. The first one claims that this organization was set up only to help the SS officers, Nazi officials and their allies from other nations (Hungary, Croatia, etc.) escape the “victors’ justice” and find sanctuary in Latin America or Middle East.
The second one asserts that in addition to facilitating their escape, it was to provide to support the former SS members, possibly even for the rest of their natural lives.
The third – by far the most audacious conspiracy theory – states that in addition to SS members, ODESSA was supposed to provide sanctuary not only to the members of the SS but also to significant financial assets of Nazi Germany (gold, precious stones, foreign currency, etc.).
Assets that would one day to be used to overthrow the post-war Federal Republic of Germany and to establish the Fourth Reich that will last a thousand years – or even more.
None of these theories is true. For starters, they ignore a well-established fact that the SS members were the most fanatical national-socialists totally and absolutely loyal to Nazi Germany and personally to Adolf Hitler.
They were Nazi fanatics that took the oath to be loyal to the above to their death and – if necessary – willingly and gladly give their very lives for their Nazi Fatherland and for their Führer.
Consequently, for these fanatics even the thought of fleeing Germany (and thus the battlefield) would have been tantamount to high treason and thus simply inconceivable.
Therefore, they started to think about escape and a sanctuary place only after Hitler’s suicide on April 30th, 1945 relieved them from their oath to him personally and the unconditional surrender of Germany ordered by then-commander-in-chief of German armed forces Gross-Admiral Karl Dönitz – of their oath to Nazi Germany.
And the defeat and the devastation of Germany (and the demise of the Third Reich in general and the SS in particular) have been so overwhelming and catastrophic that it is highly unlikely that any of the SS refugees (that included none of high-ranking Nazis – even none of SS generals) ever thought about anything but the personal survival. Let alone about establishing the Fourth Reich.
The issue of missing Nazi gold (and other financial assets) is an interesting question (which I will cover in the very next section), but there is no evidence whatsoever that post-war “German economic miracle” was financed by anything other than the Marshall Plan.
An extensive system of “ratlines” (escape routes for Nazis and Italian, Croatian and fascists fleeing Europe at the end of World War II) did exist – and actually was started in late 1944. There routes did take the Nazis to safe havens in Latin America, Middle East and even such unlikely places as Canada or Australia.
But these ratlines were set up and operated non by Nazis, but by pro-Nazi Catholic priests, religious and other Church officials – often in close cooperation with the officials from Latin American and other destination countries.
The organization that assisted former SS members did exist (actually, it still exists). It is based in Wuppertal (North Rhine-Westphalia) and called Die Stille Hilfe für Kriegsgefangene und Internierte, (“Silent assistance for prisoners of war and interned persons”) or Stille Hilfe, for short.
The organization has garnered a reputation for being shrouded in secrecy and thus remains a source of speculation (and, of course, conspiracy theories). However, it was set up not in 1944, but in 1951 – five years after the end of the war (and after practically all former SS members had already left Europe).
And it was set up not by any SS members, but by a woman – Helene Elisabeth Princess von Isenburg. It was (and still is) a strictly relief organization for arrested, condemned and fugitive SS members.
Former high-ranking Waffen-SS officers did establish an organization (actually, the same year) – Hilfsgemeinschaft auf Gegenseitigkeit der Angehörigen der Ehemaligen Waffen-SS (HIAG) – “Mutual aid association of former Waffen-SS members”).
But it was a lobby group and a revisionist veterans’ organization. Its main objective was to achieve legal, economic and historical rehabilitation of the Waffen-SS. As one of historians put it, “HIAG’s main goal was pensions, not a restoration of the Third Reich”. However, in 1992 it was deemed a threat to German democracy amd banned by the federal government.