Organisation der ehemaligen SS-Angehörigen or the Organization for former SS Members. ODESSA is believed to have been an international Nazi network set up toward the end of World War II by a group of SS officers. The purpose of the organisation was to establish and facilitate secret escape routes, later known as ratlines, to allow SS members to avoid their capture and prosecution for war crimes. Most of those fleeing out of Germany and Austria were helped to South America and the Middle East.
Of course, the acronym is spelled exactly the same as the Ukrainian city of Odessa.
According to Simon Wiesenthal, ODESSA was set up in 1946 to aid fugitive Nazis. Interviews by the German television station ZDF with former SS men suggest instead that ODESSA was never the single world-wide secret organization that Wiesenthal described, but several organizations, both overt and covert – including several Latin American governments and an Italy-based network of Catholic clerics – that helped ex-SS men. The truth may have been obscured by antagonism between the Wiesenthal organization and German military intelligence.
While Nazi concentration camp supervisors denied the existence of ODESSA, neither US War Crimes Commission reports nor American OSS officials did. In interviews of outspoken German anti-Nazis by Joseph Wechsberg, former American OSS officer and member of the US War Crimes Commission, it was verified that plans were made for a Fourth Reich before the fall of the Third, and that this was to be implemented by reorganizing in remote Nazi colonies overseas: “The Nazis decided that the time had come to set up a world-wide clandestine escape network.”
Recent biographies of Adolf Eichmann, who escaped to South America, and Heinrich Himmler, the alleged founder of ODESSA, made no reference to such an organization. Notorious Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele also escaped to South America, but connections with ODESSA remain uncertain.
Of particular importance in examining the postwar activities of high-ranking Nazis was Paul Manning’s book Martin Bormann. According to Manning, eventually, over 10,000 former German military made it to South America along escape routes set up by ODESSA and the Deutsche Hilfsverein. ODESSA itself was incidental, says Manning, with the continuing existence of the Bormann Organization a much larger and more menacing fact. None of this had yet been convincingly proven.