Art, opera and the Holocaust - the story of a couple at the centre of the Nazi party.

"Suddenly we heard a loud cry in the distance, which turned into an overwhelming cry of joy, ‘Heil Hitler'. It approached like a surging human sea, getting closer and louder."

Charlotte Wächter recalling the events of March 15, 1938.
Hitler arriving back in Berlin following the annexation of Austria, 1938. Getty Images

In July 1949, a 48-year-old man died of unknown causes in a Vatican hospital in Rome. A few months earlier, he had assumed a false identity, that of Alfredo Reinhardt.

The last months of his life had been spent in a monastery in a southern suburb of Rome.

But the story of who he really was and how he ended up there is one that leads to the very heart of Nazi Europe and the slaughter of roughly 11 million people, including six million Jews.

As law professor and barrister, Philippe Sands reveals in his new book, The Ratline, the man's real name was Otto Wächter

Otto Wächter, 1938, Alfredo Reinhardt, 1946. Photos courtesy of HORST WÄCHTER

An Austrian Nazi, he had held the position of governor of Krakow, in Poland, and then of Galicia, the region straddling the modern-day border of Poland and Ukraine. Between 1939 and 1945, hundreds of thousands of Jews from the regions under his control were sent to their deaths.

World War II ended in Europe 75 years ago, but in the aftermath of what philosopher Hannah Arendt described as "the darkest and deepest abyss", the vast majority of senior and mid-level Nazi officials escaped justice.

Otto Wächter was one of them. He spent four years on the run, receiving help every step of the way.

The ratline was the term used for the escape routes devised by Nazi sympathisers for those fleeing capture.

In his book, Sands follows a trail that begins in Austria, passes through the Alps, Germany, Poland and Ukraine, before concluding in Italy. It is one that implicates the Vatican, the United States Counterintelligence Corps and others.

During his research, he excavated archives, ate cake with the sons of Nazis and climbed the Alps. He did so, in part, because the story of Otto intersects with that of his own family.

Castle or Schloss Hagenberg, the home of Horst Wächter, Otto's son. Photo courtesy of PHILIPPE SANDS



For Sands, it all began in 2010 when he was invited to deliver a lecture on crimes against humanity in Lviv, a city in Ukraine.

While there, he found the house in which his maternal grandfather, Leon Buchholtz, had been born. In 1904, the year of Buchholtz's birth, the city was called Lemberg, and it was a regional capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Sands hoped to fill in gaps in his understanding of his grandfather's identity and, by extension, his own. Although Sands's grandfather survived the war, almost every other member of his family was killed.

He began to research the life of Hans Frank, the governor-general of German-occupied Poland between 1939 and 1945; the man under whose governorship Buchholtz's family was exterminated.

Frank was convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity and hanged at Nuremberg.

In the course of his research, Sands arranged to meet Frank's son, Niklas. In time, the two men became friends.

According to Sands, Niklas "despised his father", having once declared: "I am against the death penalty, except in the case of my father."

But he introduced Sands to another son of a Nazi who did not feel the same way - Otto's son, Horst Wächter.

In the spring of 2012, Sands visited Horst in his dilapidated 12th-century baroque castle, Schloss Hagenberg, near Austria's northern border. Eventually, after years of correspondence, Horst decided to share his family's vast archive with Sands.

In it were more than 800 letters between Horst's mother, Charlotte, and his father, Otto, written between 1929 and 1949, as well as Charlotte's diaries and accounts of their life together that she wrote 40 years later.

Charlotte Wächter in conversation with journalist Melitta Weidemann, Four Seasons Hotel, Munich, April 2, 1977.With permission of Horst Wächter

Together, they paint a picture of a couple close to the most senior members of the Nazi party, among them Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler; of a man responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of men, women and children and a woman who embraced Nazi ideology just as fervently; of a family who enjoyed art, opera and nature in the midst of the Holocaust; and of a desperate bid to evade capture and justice as the second world war came to an end.

Berchtesgaden, Bavarian Alps.



The story began in 1929 when 20-year-old Charlotte Bleckmann, the daughter of a wealthy Austrian steel mill owner, accepted an invitation to spend a weekend skiing with a friend.

On the train to Schneeberg, she met a 27-year-old Austrian lawyer.

"My new baron was tall, slender, athletic with delicate features, very beautiful hands. He wore a diamond ring on the little finger of his right hand and had a noble appearance, one that any girl would notice."

- Charlotte's diary entry (April 6, 1929)

The young lawyer was Otto . The son of an officer in the imperial Austro-Hungarian Army, he had studied law at the University of Vienna, where he became politically active.

An early supporter of Hitler, he had taken part in a large anti-Jewish protest organised by an organisation called the Antisemitenbund in central Vienna in 1921. He had been arrested and tried and spent 14 days in prison. On April 1, 1923, he had become a member of the Nazi party.

During their courtship, Charlotte and Otto took long walks in the park and went boating.

Charlotte Wächter, Lake Zell. Photo courtesy of HORST WÄCHTER

In March 1931, Charlotte gave Otto a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf.

"Through struggle and love to the end."

- A message from Charlotte to Otto written on the flyleaf of Mein Kampf.

In May of that year, she became a member of the Nazi party. Soon, Otto became district chief of the Nazi party in Vienna. Then, in April 1932, he joined the SS.

But Charlotte's diary rarely made reference to his political activities.

They married on September 11, 1932. Charlotte was pregnant at the time.

Adolf Hitler in Vienna, 1933. IAN SAYER ARCHIVE



On March 5, 1933, the Nazis won the German federal elections. A little over two weeks later, Hitler gave himself absolute power.

Charlotte and Otto's first child, Otto junior, was born a few days later, on April 2. They would have six in total.

The following year, on July 25, 1934, Austrian Nazis attempted to overthrow the government of Engelbert Dollfuss, himself a fascist but one more closely aligned with Italy's Benito Mussolini than Hitler. He opposed the annexation (or Anschluss) of Austria that Hitler so desired and had banned the Nazi party in Austria.

Otto Wächter with Adolf Hitler. Photo courtesy of HORST WÄCHTER

The attempted coup failed, but Dollfuss was killed.

Thirteen Nazis were arrested, tried and hanged in the streets of Vienna.

Otto's exact involvement in the plot was never clear. But he was indicted by the Austrian state for high treason. He fled Vienna before he could be arrested.

The Victory Column at the end of Victory Avenue in Berlin, 1935. Photo courtesy of PHILIPPE SANDS



After several days with no news of him, Charlotte learned that Otto had found refuge in Berlin.

In Germany, Otto completed his military service, qualified to practice law there and rose quickly through the ranks of the SS.

Photos of Otto, 1938.  Photos courtesy of HORST WÄCHTER

Back in Austria, Charlotte returned to her hometown of Mürrzzuschlag with their baby son, where she received visitors and played chess.

In September 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed by the German Parliament, the Reichstag. They stripped Jews of German citizenship and banned marriage between Jews and non-Jewish Germans, providing the legal framework for the systematic persecution of Jews in Germany.

The German law gazette announces the Nuremberg Laws, 1935.

In the autumn of 1936, after two years apart, Charlotte drove from Austria to Germany, collecting Otto from the barracks at Freising where he was completing his military service at the Dachau concentration camp, before driving him to Berlin. Dachau, the first concentration camp created by the Nazis, was initially a camp for political prisoners.

In Berlin, Otto was offered a job in the SD, the intelligence agency of the SS.

When, in early 1937, he was promoted to SS-Obersturmbannführer, his personnel file described him as having an "upright and open" character, of being well-educated, with common sense, and perfect "racial characteristics", namely "tall, slender, with Nordic appearance".

Otto's drawings from Berlin, 1935. Photo courtesy of HORST WÄCHTER

But things were not progressing so well in Charlotte and Otto's marriage. Charlotte learned that Otto had had an affair. It was not his first. Charlotte was pregnant at the time and responded by terminating the pregnancy.

In January 1938, Heinrich Himmler, the leader of the SS, promoted Otto to SS-Standartenführer.

But developments in Austria meant the Wächters would not stay in Berlin for long.

Nazis enter Vienna signalling the annexation of Austria, 1938. Getty Images



On March 11, 1938, Otto's friend Arthur Seyss-Inquart became governor of Austria. The following morning, German troops marched across the border. The annexation was complete.

Forty years later, Charlotte described how this "single event changed everything, and our wildest dreams, which we never imagined could be realised, suddenly came true."

"Every Nazi felt such joy about this miracle, we all embraced each other. Yes, it was one of the most decisive moments of our lives, and in those of the hundreds of thousands who had fled to Germany and were living as ‘illegals'."

- Charlotte's account of March 11, 1938.
Austrian citizens welcome Hitler's arrival in Vienna, 1938. Getty images

Charlotte and Otto returned to Vienna in time to witness Hitler's arrival.

"We went into town in the big Mercedes and looked for our friends and the place we'd been assigned. The Fischböcks, the Lehrs and others were all there. Suddenly we heard a loud cry in the distance, which turned into an overwhelming cry of joy, ‘Heil Hitler'. It approached like a surging human sea, getting closer and louder. The road to the Heldenplatz was completely full, people standing shoulder to shoulder, all the way up to the Rathaus, around the Ballhausplatz. It took a lot of time and effort to clear the route. The Führer was standing with a raised hand, greeting the crowd, which was shouting excitedly … a spontaneous and heartfelt outburst of joy. Everyone was carried along in this feeling of heartfelt joy."

- Charlotte's account of Hitler's arrival in Vienna.
Hitler during the Anschluss rally, 1938. Getty Images

Otto and Charlotte had secured seats on the balcony of the Heldenplatz. For Charlotte, that time with Hitler was "the best moment of my life".

Shortly afterwards, Otto was offered a position as state commissioner.

"Dr Arthur Seyss-Inquart, Governor of Austria, has appointed an organizer of the Nazi Putsch of July 1934, Dr Otto Waechter, to be State Commissioner for matters of personnel."

- A New York Times report.

Within a week of the Anschluss, a new constitutional provision allowed for the reform of public bodies. According to Section 3 of the ordinance restructuring the Austrian civil service, all Jews and part Jews (Mischlinge) would be automatically dismissed.

Jagiellonian University, Krakow. Getty Images

Otto set about his task of cleansing the Austrian civil service with ruthless vigour, even dismissing some former law professors at the University of Vienna. In time, he dismissed at least 16,237 civil servants, many of whom were transported to concentration camps.

"He has to purge all former officials who were against Hitler. As with every transition, there were many intrigues, charges and accusations that had to be investigated…The Nazis were of the opinion that he was too soft and his opponents that his judgments were too strict. Whoever stays in this post, burns their fingers."

- Charlotte's diary entry (1938)
Kristallnacht, Vienna, 1938. Getty images



On November 9, 1938 - Kristallnacht (the Night of Broken Glass) - Charlotte attended the premiere of a new play, Cromwell at the Burgtheater in Vienna. While she watched the play, on the streets of Vienna, Jewish homes, shops and synagogues were ransacked, burned and destroyed.

Twenty-seven Austrian Jews were murdered during the pogrom. About 6,000 were arrested and deported - almost all of them to Dachau.

But Charlotte made no mention of those events in her diary.

"Visited my sister Getrud. In late afternoon my father and mother was there. In the evening I attended the premiere of Cromwell. Afterwards I went with everyone to the Rathauskeller [a kind of bar and restaurant]."

- Charlotte's diary entry from the night of Kristallnacht (Nov 9, 1938)

Charlotte's own private drama during this time revolved around her discovery that Otto had had another affair. Still, she immersed herself in Vienna's cultural delights, attending a concert of Mozart and Beethoven conducted by Furtwängler and a performance of Die Fledermaus by Johan Strauss. She spent New Year's Eve at Vienna's annual Opera Ball.

Vienna Opera House. Getty images

"Afterwards home and waited for midnight alone," she recorded.

"[It was a] glamorous year which brought big changes to our lives! . . . We are now a big country, and we have the Führer."

- Charlotte's diary entry from New Year's Eve, 1938
Otto Wächter in black leather coat, overseeing execution in Bochina. Photo courtesy of the Institute of National Remembrance



On the morning of September 1, 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland.

Two days later, on September 3, Britain and France declared war on Germany.

On September 29, Germany and the Soviet Union divided Poland between them - the Germans taking everything west of the Bug River and the Soviets everything to the east of it.

On October 8, Hitler annexed large parts of western Poland.

A few days later, Hitler declared Hans Frank the governor-general of German-occupied Poland - those parts that had not been directly annexed. Frank set up his residence and headquarters at Wawel castle. Otto's close friend, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, was appointed as his deputy.

Hans Frank. Getty images

On October 17, 1939, Otto became chief administrator for the District of Krakow, one of the four new districts of Poland. But within a month, Seyss-Inquart was moved to another position and Otto was appointed governor of Krakow. Otto established his office in the Potocki Palace, on Krakow's main square.

Letter from Potocki Palace. Photo courtesy of HORST WÄCHTER

Charlotte and the children - they now had four - remained in Vienna.

"Otto came home rarely," Charlotte noted, but he wrote often.

Charlotte rejoiced in her husband's new work, and the "humane and sympathetic" way he exercised power.

"He refused to shoot innocent people… He would always say: ‘You have to try to understand the people and govern with love.'"

- Charlotte's account, recorded 40 years after the war.

On his first day as governor on November 11, 1939, Otto signed an order with the title, Marking of Jews in the District of Krakow. It required Jews over the age of 12 to wear a blue Star of David on a white armband, precisely 10cm (four inches) wide. Those who failed to comply faced "severe punishment".

Decree signed by Otto indicating that Jews must wear armbands, Krakow. Photo courtesy of PHILIPPE SANDS

"Tomorrow, I have to have 50 Poles publicly shot."

- Otto's letter to Charlotte in November 1939, explaining why it was not a good time for her to visit him in Krakow.

The order to shoot the men had come from Berlin. It was a reprisal for an attack on a police station, in which two German police officers had been killed. The two perpetrators, members of a Polish underground organisation called White Eagle, had been caught and hanged from street lamps.

On December 18, 1939, about 50 men from Bochnia, near Krakow were rounded up, led across a snow-covered field and shot, before being buried in a mass grave that local Jews had been forced to dig. According to witness accounts, Otto attended the mass execution.

A mass execution of Polish men in Bochnia. Photo courtesy of the Institute of National Remembrance

A few months later, in the spring of 1940, Charlotte joined Hans Frank and his wife, Brigitte, on a trip to Vienna. They travelled on a "special train" - the night sleeper.

"My heart leapt for joy at being in my much-loved home city," wrote Charlotte.

She walked through the city with Frank.

"Then we went to see the Habsburger graves in the Imperial Crypt. A long row of rulers, laid to rest for eternity and the epherial memorials were bearing witnesses to their existence, their shadows and their worlds. From there we went to the Beethoven house opposite the university and then in the Hotel Bristol where all that travelled slept that evening. In the evening opera tickets arrived and we saw the Rosenkavalier to which Frank invited me. I arranged a very pleasant and cheerful tea with my parents."

- Charlotte's diary entry.

A street in the Krakow ghetto. AP



Germany was winning more and more ground. "Holland capitulates," Charlotte wrote in her diary on May 15, 1940. Three days later, "Brussels falls". And on June 23, "France peace agreement signed yesterday" - a reference to France's surrender.

Heidegund, Charlotte and Otto's fifth child, was born on October 16, 1940, in Vienna. A "sweet, intelligent thing," she wrote.

Charlotte moved to Krakow shortly after but was unhappy with her new house there.

Otto planned to cheer her up by buying a vast castle on the River Vistula.

He immersed himself in his work, expelling tens of thousands of Krakow's Jewish inhabitants to the surrounding countryside.

Part of the Krakow ghetto wall. Photo courtesy of PHILIPPE SANDS

During this time, Charlotte helped herself to "the most exquisite paintings and the most beautiful items of antique furniture," including Gothic and Renaissance chests, armour, bowls, furniture and paintings from the museum in Krakow, said the director of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Krakow at the time, Professor Feliks Kopera.

She is said to have also taken Pieter Bruegel's famous The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, painted in 1559. Kopera accused her of having caused the museum "great harm" by taking such valuable works.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, "The Fight Between Carnival and Lent", 1559. Getty Images

Some of them were returned after the war, others were not.

On March 3, 1941, Otto signed the decree to establish the Krakow ghetto in the Podgorze district. All Jews remaining in the city were required to move into it. They were allowed to take just 25kg of personal belongings with them. Over time, Jews from other communities were also forced into the ghetto. Eventually, about 20,000 Jews lived within its boundaries - in an area that had previously housed 3,000.

At around the same time, Charlotte complained to Otto: "It's my destiny to be unhappy." She sent instructions for the renovations of their new house: Otto should make her a fitted wardrobe and follow the plan she had sent him.

During this time, he attended cabinet meetings at Wawel Castle.

"Ultimately a radical solution of the Judenfrage [Jewish question] was unavoidable."

Otto, according to minutes of a meeting at Wawel Castle, October 20, 1941

In November, Otto and Charlotte hosted a roofing ceremony for their new home, Schloss Wartenberg, which overlooked the Vistula River.

"We all got onto the roof. Otto hammered the final nail into the beam [of their new home]. Then we went down again to eat and drink sekt [sparkling wine]. In the evening we had guests. Very nice. They stayed until 11 pm. Very nice. I received a book as a present. Afterwards everyone went into town again. In the afternoon I went to a concert of Brahms' Second Symphony and Beethoven's Seventh with Elly Ney. Very beautiful."

Charlotte's diary entry, November 15, 1941.
Wannsee Villa, where the details of the "final solution" were settled. Getty Images



On January 20, 1942, the Wannsee Conference, a meeting of senior government officials, in Germany, settled the details of the "final solution to the Jewish question".

As a result of the meeting, a network of extermination camps was established.

On January 23, Otto was appointed governor of the District of Galicia, a part of southern Poland with Lemberg as its capital, today part of western Ukraine.

Charlotte learned that Otto had been personally selected by Hitler.

"We need to send our best man to Lemberg, and I've been advised he is Otto Wächter, Governor of Krakow."

How Charlotte recorded Hitler's decision in her diary.

Michael Katz' parents, Rita and Edward Katz. Rita Katz died in Belzec camp. Edward Katz died in either Treblinka or Majdanek camp. Photo courtesy of the Katz family



Otto arrived in Lemberg, modern-day Lviv, on January 28, 1942. Within a few weeks, he had signed a decree prohibiting Jews from certain employment. Within a year, most of the Jewish population of Lemberg - more than half a million people - had been "liquidated".

Otto spent two-and-a-half years in Lemberg, a time of "enormous joy", during which he implemented "his own ideas on humane and good governance", Charlotte wrote in her diary.

In the summer of 1942, they spent a few months apart. It was during this time that Charlotte fell in love with Hans Frank.

"I breathed in his air, how much I would like to see him again … I don't know what to do, so intensely do I concern myself with my Hans. I am so in love and long for the moment I will see him again. I have to wait for the moment. How many times a day do I think of him, he is so spirited, so full of zest, thank God no one knows."

Charlotte's diary entry, May 7, 1942.

In August 1942, the Grosse Aktion began as Jews in Lemberg were rounded up. Some were shot. The Sands family were among them. Others were transported to the extermination camp at nearby Belzec.

Michael Katz, a survivor of the Grosse Aktion in Lemberg, as a baby in 1928. Photo courtesy of the Katz family

READ: Holocaust survivor Michael Katz on how he escaped the Nazis

Otto wrote a long letter from Krakow, where he was attending a Nazi party congress.

"There was much to do in Lemberg after you left."

- Otto to Charlotte, August 16, 1942.

His tone was positive, and everything was "lovely" at home in Lemberg

While Otto entertained Himmler in Krakow, Charlotte's parents and Otto's father visited her in Thumersbach.

"Now I want to admit to you that I was at the Salzburg festival twice. I was invited by Reiter and met with the Fischbocks who were there for four days. We had a very rich programme and was first in [the town of] Leopoldskron at an inspiring Poetry Day and then just after that we were at the Marriage of Figaro at the Festspielhaus. It was a very nice performance. At tea the Gauleiter invited me for dinner at his house. He lives in a villa near Leopoldskron in a very beautiful place with a beautiful view. I find him and her very pleasant and must say that in general they are much loved and make the best impression. The simple dinner with approximately 50 people was very nice with poets and authors and continued until 1am."

- Charlotte to Otto, summer of 1942.

Charlotte described her excursions around Thumersbach as "unbelievably lovely". They took hikes to the remote Schmittenhohe, lunched by a pond and swam. She felt "overwhelmed by the grandeur of nature".

Postcard of Salzburg, 1938. Photo courtesy of PHILIPPE SANDS

As the family enjoyed their time in the mountains, the Grosse Aktion reached its conclusion in Lemberg.

"The Jews are being deported in increasing numbers, and it's hard to get powder for the tennis court."

Otto to Charlotte, late summer of 1942.

Around this time, the New York Times reported charges against 10 leading Nazis, identified by the Polish government-in-exile, for crimes committed on the territory of Poland. The list included Otto's name.

"[He was] infamous for the extermination of the Polish intelligentsia."

A New York Times report, 1942

The newspaper reported that upon his orders, 100 professors - Jews and non-Jews - from Jagiellonian University in Krakow had been sent to concentration camps; many had died, others had gone mad.

Soviet artillery tanks advance towards Lemberg, 1944. Getty images



By 1943, the tide was beginning to turn.

In February, news reached Charlotte of the Nazis' defeat by the Red Army at Stalingrad.

"One of the saddest days of my life. All the blood that flowed could not be darker."

- Charlotte's diary entry, February 3, 1943

The following year, as the Red Army moved in on Lemberg in the early spring, Charlotte responded by focusing on having fun.

"The situation is very bad …. Let me have some fun. Who knows how long it will last? I want to enjoy my life."

- Charlotte's diary entry, 1944.

She went horse riding and fox hunting.

"I was the only woman that was invited to the hunt. And there was much fun. I felt brilliant. There was a gallows humour … After the hunt we went to the castles or to the estates that were in that vicinity and where we were hosted well. I was very joyful, entertained myself brilliantly."

- Charlotte's diary entry

Charlotte and the children left Lemberg and returned to Thumersbach. On April 17, with the Red Army less than 125km from Lemberg, Himmler drafted a new decree to be signed by Hitler that promoted Otto to the rank of SS-Gruppenführer. A single rank now stood between him and the Reichsführer.

An inscription on the book Himmler gave Otto reads 'best birthday wishes', July, 1944. Photo courtesy of PHILIPPE SANDS

"I will endeavour to warrant your extraordinary trust through exceptional performance," Otto assured Himmler. "I will handle the tasks that are given to me … and proudly meet them, aware of the special commitment that being a part of the Führerkorps of your SS entails."

That same spring, Himmler transferred Otto to Italy to serve as the head of the military administration in the north of the country, which was under Nazi occupation.

Otto and Charlotte Wächter, Going. 1948. Photo courtesy of HORST WÄCHTER

On July 27, 1944, Otto left Lemberg.

"I dreamt of your return to Vienna."

Charlotte to Otto

On July 26, Otto told Frank the district of Galicia was "practically lost".

"A king without a country. My project in Galicia is over."

- Otto to Charlotte, July 27

Charlotte wrote three words in her diary: "Giving up Lemberg."

In September 1944, the Allies reached Rome and headed north.

"Like locusts, by air and by foot."

- Charlotte's diary entry, September 1944

Otto encouraged her not to feel despondent.

"[He said] we can march into the future with our consciences clear and our heads held high, staying true to our conception of this world and this life …. We will stand with him [Hitler] in the future."

- Charlotte's recollections, recorded 40 years after the war

The family reunited in Thumersbach for Christmas that year, as British and American bombers flew overhead.

Wächter children, Lemberg, 1943. Photo courtesy of HORST WÄCHTER

"We had a nice maid, so the five children were well looked after …. Heavy defeats and losses, black clouds on the horizon."

- Charlotte's diary entry

At the end of January 1945, Krakow fell to the Red Army.

"Our beautiful Reich is destroyed."

- Charlotte, January 24, 1945

On April 30, 1945, Hitler committed suicide.

The site of the bunker where Hitler committed suicide. Getty Images

On May 7, Charlotte received a call from Otto. He would try to make his way to Carinthia, to the mountains, he told her.

She asked him what she should do with his archives and he instructed her to destroy them.

"I burned some and threw the rest in the lake, along with the guns one wasn't allowed to have."

- Charlotte

The next day, the war in Europe ended.

"The big day of victory for the enemies … I am speechless in the face of this fact. Is this really the end of everything we wanted to build?"

- Charlotte's diary entry

Then, in the early summer of 1945, Otto disappeared.

What happened in the four years between his disappearance and his death in bed nine of a ward in the Santo Spirito hospital, within sight of St Peter's Basilica, is the subject of much of Sands's book.

Hagener Hütte, Alps. Photo courtesy of HORST WÄCHTER