Literature / The Odessa File

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Frederick Forsyth's second most famous novel, published in 1972 and adapted two years later into a film directed by Ronald Neame and starring Jon Voight and Maximilian Schell. Said film also features Mary Tamm, who would later appear in Doctor Who.

ODESSA, as stated by Forsyth in the foreword, has nothing to do with the Ukrainian port, but is the acronym for "Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen", in English "Organization of Former Members of the SS", an organisation that may or may not have existed to protect former SS members.

Set in 1963 (starting on the night of the Kennedy assassination), the novel follows Peter Miller, a German journalist investigating the suicide of a Jewish man in Hamburg. Miller acquires his diary and sets out to find Eduard Roschmann, the former commandant of the Riga concentration camp. As he does, he discovers a plot to destroy Israel using German electronics and Egyptian bio-weapons...

This work contains examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: The film is a rather loose adaption.
  • Anonymous Ringer, averted: Eduard Roschmann, aka "The Butcher of Riga", really existed. The movie, where he is killed, led to his arrest, unlike in the book. Roschmann fled to Paraguay and died in 1977.
    • It also features as a character the late, great Nazi Hunter Simon Wiesenthal.
  • Arab-Israeli Conflict
  • Argentina Is Naziland: Literally, as the ODESSA is said to be based there (a member asks what he assumes is another one "you're from Buenos-Aires?") Egypt is also Naziland, as several alumni are retired there and the ODESSA is trying to curry favor with Nasser's regime by giving it the means to destroy Israel. Most disturbing, however, is the notion that Germany is still Naziland and that a number of people who really should be dead or imprisoned for war crimes are still walking around. Wiesenthal illustrates this by showing Miller records that show that various police officers he knows from his work as a reporter were all former SS members, and explains, with regards to a current wanted war criminal: "they can't arrest him. He used to be their superior officer."
  • Author Filibuster: Miller's speech to Roschmann denouncing Nazism, both for its obvious evils and for permanently destroying Germany's reputation. This echoes Forsyth's own comments in the book's foreword.
  • Butterfly Effect: It is stated that if Miller had not seen the ambulance, Israel would have been destroyed by bio-weapons in the Six-Day War of 1967.
  • Change the Uncomfortable Subject: the attitude of practically every German over a certain age towards the Holocaust, according to Forsyth. As a result, Miller's generation has an incomplete picture at best of the recent past and how something like Nazism could have happened.
    • More personally, Miller always, always changes the subject whenever someone asks him why he's looking for Roschmann.
  • Cool Car: This leads to Miller being exposed as The Mole, as the Nazis remember his distinctive car.
  • Dirty Coward: Roschmann. He ran away in battle and tried to commandeer a vehicle meant for Wehrmacht soldiers to make his own escape. When an officer tried to stop him, he shot him in the back.
  • Driving Question: Why does Miller insist on hunting down Roschnmann?
  • Foreshadowing: Miller always refuses to answer when people ask him why he wants to track down Edward Roschnmann.
  • Friend on the Force: Miller has one, but it's not as much help as he'd like.
  • Idiot Hero: Miller does a huge number of things that should, by all rights, get him killed at various points throughout the story. His Plot Armor saves him each time.
  • Interservice Rivalry: discussed between the Wehrmacht and the SS. It's noted that during the war, the two organizations largely despised each other, but that since 1945, the ODESSA has put a lot of effort into propaganda convincing Wehrmacht veterans that the SS too were just ordinary and patriotic soldiers.
  • It's Personal: that Wehrmacht captain Roschmann shot? His name was Miller.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: Miller isn't acting out of the goodness of his heart.
  • Mad Lib Thriller Title
  • Nazi Hunter: Several of these, ranging from the protagonist to the Jewish vigilante group he encounters, as well as some real life cameos such as Simon Wiesenthal.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Miller delivers a terrific one to Roschmann towards the end of the book (see Author Filibuster above).
  • Those Wacky Nazis
  • Wham Line: I'm sorry for them. But not that sorry.
    • An even bigger one just before: That was my father.
  • You Killed My Father: The real reason Peter Miller assists the Mossad in infiltrating ODESSA.

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