The fiction that became fact

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The Independent Online
In 1972 it all seemed so far-fetched - but it made a great film. A former concentration camp commandant, the journalist who investigated him, a meeting to decide on the movement of plundered Nazi gold and a network of SS officers with access to Swiss bank accounts.

It was the plot of The Odessa File and it made Frederick Forsyth a small fortune. At the time, however, few would believe him when he said the book's villain, Eduard Roschmann, the Butcher of Riga, was a real character.

Fewer still would believe the book's claim that a meeting of high-ranking SS officers and industrialists took place at the Maison Rouge hotel in Strasbourg in 1944 to discuss ways of moving Nazi gold out of Germany and France with a view to building a Fourth Reich.

Yet he always insisted large elements of his book were true, based on information gleaned from "friends in low places." The declassified American intelligence report obtained by The Independent yesterday talks of a meeting at the Hotel Rotes Haus. This was the name given to the hotel after the German invasion of Strasbourg.

"I believe there were a number of meetings there at which the SS and industrialists carved up much of the proceeds of the Third Reich," said Forsyth. "From that point on, the fanatics were looking for funds to create the Fourth Reich. The proceeds went to Switzerland and some were undoubtedly drawn out, but because of the convoluted way they set up the accounts, I believe much of it must still be there.

"They would grab someone like their chauffeur and their cook and get them to sign a document. Years later, when they were out of the army, the chauffeur and cook would be contacted again and told to sign another piece of paper. They wouldn't know it but they were signatories to a Swiss bank account.

"It has always seemed scandalous to me that the Swiss banks are sitting on huge sums of money put there by the Nazis but also deposited by Jews who were later murdered."