Listen free for 30 days

Listen with a free trial

One credit a month, good for any title to download and keep.
Unlimited listening to the Plus Catalogue - thousands of select Audible Originals, podcasts and audiobooks.
Exclusive member-only deals.
No commitment - cancel anytime.
Buy Now for £19.99

Buy Now for £19.99

Pay using card ending in
By completing your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and authorise Audible to charge your designated card or any other card on file. Please see our Privacy Notice, Cookies Notice and Interest-based Ads Notice.

Summary

FROM THE BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF EAST WEST STREET

As Governor of Galicia, SS Brigadeführer Otto Freiherr von Wächter presided over an authority on whose territory hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles were killed, including the family of the author's grandfather. By the time the war ended in May 1945, he was indicted for 'mass murder'. Hunted by the Soviets, the Americans, the Poles and the British, as well as groups of Jews, Wächter went on the run. He spent three years hiding in the Austrian Alps, assisted by his wife Charlotte, before making his way to Rome where he was helped by a Vatican bishop. He remained there for three months. While preparing to travel to Argentina on the 'ratline' he died unexpectedly, in July 1949, a few days after spending a weekend with an 'old comrade'.

In The Ratline Philippe Sands offers a unique account of the daily life of a senior Nazi and fugitive, and of his wife. Drawing on a remarkable archive of family letters and diaries, he unveils a fascinating insight into life before and during the war, on the run, in Rome, and into the Cold War. Eventually the door is unlocked to a mystery that haunts Wächter's youngest son, who continues to believe his father was a good man - what happened to Otto Wächter, and how did he die? 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio on our Desktop Site.

©2019 Philippe Sands (P)2019 Orion Publishing Group

Critic reviews

"A gripping adventure, an astounding journey of discovery and a terrifying and timely portrait of evil in all its complexity, banality, self-justification and madness. A stunning achievement." (Stephen Fry)

"Hypnotic, shocking and unputdownable." (John Le Carré)

"Breathtaking, gripping, and ultimately, shattering. Philippe Sands has done the unimaginable: look a butcher in the eye and tell his story without flinching." (Elif Shafak)

What listeners say about The Ratline

Average customer ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    181
  • 4 Stars
    37
  • 3 Stars
    11
  • 2 Stars
    3
  • 1 Stars
    2
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    167
  • 4 Stars
    31
  • 3 Stars
    9
  • 2 Stars
    0
  • 1 Stars
    2
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    167
  • 4 Stars
    28
  • 3 Stars
    10
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    1

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

The banality of evil, and how easily we accept it

After 1945, a fog of amnesia as well as an iron curtain descended across Europe. Scores were settled, populations expelled and collaborators punished in episodes which have often been excused as justified revenge, best forgotten. But we should not forget that a surprisingly large number of senior Nazis escaped justice, often turning up in key peacetime roles, or disappearing from view, often with the collusion of Western powers and The Vatican via the Ratline, an escape hatch from Europe. Otto Wachter, Governor of Krakow then Galicia, mass murderer and senior SS member never made it beyond Rome, where he died in the arms of a Bishop. Had this been the sole theme of the book it might not have attracted much attention, but Philippe Sands, whose own family were victims of Wachter's administration, has the remarkable advantage of a long acquaintance with Wachter's own son and access to his rich family archive of diaries, recordings, photographs and documents. He is able to reconstruct the private live of Wachter and his flamboyant and ruthless wife - the latter remained an unrepentant Nazi until her death decades later - to startle the reader with the macabre contrast between the glamour of their social life and the mechanised carnage of Wachter's work.

The moral ambiguity of the story is often outrageous. It's easy to be caught up in the love story of the couple, the casually shameless plundering of artworks by Wachter's wife, the motivation of Wachter's son in trying against all the evidence to exonerate his father as a noble victim, even a hero. Here the author's surprising moral restraint about Wachter's story breaks down, pressing his son for a sign that he accepts the guilt of his father, as if this somehow will bring about a measure of justice. It's a sign that has never come despite his collaboration, over years, with the author on many iterations of the story which have become projects in their own right - publications, a podcast, public debates. The author has developed the material across these projects into a powerful story, of which this book is the ultimate telling. It's well-honed, and well presented. It's certainly compelling. I completed it in two days, pushing aside almost everything else I was doing.

The contrast between the personal biographies and the historical narrative shows up in the choice of narrator. While the author narrates the historical background and the story of the project itself, the choice of well-known actors for the biographical sections seems reasonable. Possibly because this is such a well-produced and well-told tale, Stephen Fry may have seemed a suitable choice. It's hard to listen to him narrate however without registering an element of comic irony. The gap between the private comfort and self-satisfaction of the Wachter's and the ghastly reality of their public life stands for itself, and sometimes the audible italics and raised eyebrow during these passages is a little too 'on the nose'.

This book is a fascinating revelation of how unspeakable evil coexists with everyday life, and how the most egregious injustices are normalised. It's a book that engages our emotions, a quest that we have to complete. It's a great story.

14 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Close but no cigar.

I do not really understand why all these smart authors are so eager to ready their books. Part of this book is ready by Stephen Fry which is absolutely amazing, but most is read by the author which has a quite boring and dull voice.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

A 14 hour story which should have been 6 hours.

Intricate detail by the author into the story of this Nazi War criminal and excuse of a human being. The whole story was explained in minute detail and beautifully read and told by a trio of excellent readers. The problem and major problem at that was there really wasnt that much to tell. He was a fairly despicable individual who was a womanizer, lacked any sense of morals, and was self-interested to the detriment of everyone else. This was an evil generation that Germany produced and he was an outstanding member of this evil generation. He was complicit in his war crimes and there was a rumour that he was poisoned by the CIA. Was it important ? Did it really matter ? Probably not. As a catholic I was ashamed to read about how those in high office within the Catholic church defended these monsters at the end of the war. In summary - not much of a story. Dont waste 14 hours of your life reading about a degenerate who really didnt do much apart from carry out and execute willingly orders from a barbaric regime that was thankfully defeated.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting, gripping account

Very entertaining listening and informative. I would definitely listen to this again. Highly recommended for those who have an interest.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A Loving Couple Cheerleaders for Mass Murder

This is a story about two things:
1. Some horrifying truths
2. The patience, compassion and integrity it takes to uncover them.

Read it. Never forget.

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Making a monster human

Peter Sands does an amazing thing. He makes a monster - Otto Freiherr von Wächter - who was responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people into a human being that you can feel pity for. I was almost willing von Wächter to escape ... what was I thinking! It's an amazing story and an amazing "friendship" formed with the dead Nazi's son. I was left loathing and admiring von Wächter and his Lady Macbeth of a wife.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Simply perfect

A difficult story told in a careful and respectful manner. As my title says it is simply perfect. A gifted author. Thank you. James

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

A tale of a far more unpleasant time?

The three narrators were balanced well and enhanced the narrative, the refusal of the son to see the evil in the father AND mother is sad but not unexpected, as Austrians it could be said they brushed an awful lot under the carpet.
As a work of investigation and devotion to the project it is impressive, but I can't help but think there are more accounts to come.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Gripping

A detailed insight of humanity during an extraordinary period in history. Educational and enlightening which encourages tolerance of others perspectives whilst acknowledging the evil which existed.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Fantastic!

Another incredible book from Philippe Sands! Endlessly intriguing, complex and interwoven with the right balance of human story, history and analysis. Loved the narration by the author in particular- it gave the book depth and grounded the words in reality. Will listen again soon!

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Carolien S
  • Carolien S
  • 14-02-21

Exception piece of research on WWII

I loved "East West Street: On the Origins of "Genocide" and "Crimes Against Humanity" and this continues the story of one of the main Nazi players in Poland and Galicia during the war. Based on a trove of documents provided by Otto von Wachter's son Horst, the author traces his escape from Germany to Italy where he planned to obtain false papers to reach South America. He died under mysterious circumstances which the author then sets out to unravel. The action switches between encounters in the present between Horst and the author as well as the various sources and historical details of Otto and his wife, Charlotte's life.

The audio version narrated by Stephen Fry and the author was an absolute delight.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Anonymous User
  • Anonymous User
  • 28-08-21

Nazi hunting brilliance

superbly documented and brilliantly narrated, this book reads like a conversation. deep personal accounts and insights into the horrific wod of Nazi leadership

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Anonymous User
  • Anonymous User
  • 05-08-21

Too many irrelevant details

Great story. Well researched. Powerful narration. Scary main characters. But way too many details - about fishing, numerous theater visits, unimportant people interviewed…. Cut the story down to half the time. And please more focus on the rat line itself.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Mr. P. D. Burdon
  • Mr. P. D. Burdon
  • 16-09-20

Great book but audio issue

This is an exceptional book. The only issue was that Phillipe's audio quality is poor. There are three narrators so this does not ruin the book. But the quality difference is striking.

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Babs
  • Babs
  • 24-07-20

Sad history

This is a must read for everyone who is interested in the history of WW 2 and it’s horrible genocide.
This book tells the story of an Austrian womaniser/family man who believed in Hitler even before the Anschluss and who oversaw a huge territory during the war where many Jews were massacred.
After the war he fled, spent years hidden in the mountains before he eventually ended up in Rome where he died soon afterwards.
The ever more interesting be it sad story goes on telling the denial of one of his sons, who keeps believing and telling that his father was a good person who did not mean I’ll to the Jews.
There is a documentary on YouTube regarding the same story.