Historical story

Death of Otto Wächter

Otto Wächter was the deputy of Hans Frank, the governor of the Krakow district and Galicia. He was prosecuted for crimes per 100,000. Poles, but was never punished.

The condition of the man in the hospital bed was serious. The high fever and acute inflammation of the liver prevented him from eating or focusing his thoughts on the ambitions and desires that had driven him throughout his life.

The notes at the foot of the bed contained little information, and even these were inaccurate. "On July 9, 1949, a patient named Reinhardt was admitted." The date was right, but the name was wrong. The real name was Wächter, but its use would alert the authorities that the patient is a wanted high-ranking National Socialist, guilty of mass crimes. He was the deputy of Hans Frank, general governor of the occupied Polish lands , hanged three years earlier in Nuremberg for murdering four million people. Wächter was also accused of "mass murder" , shooting and executions of over one hundred thousand people. These were an understatement.

Quo vadis Germania?

In Rome, "Reinhardt" was in hiding. He was convinced that the Americans, Poles, Soviets and Jews were chasing him for "crimes against humanity" and "genocide". He was counting on getting to South America.

His father was referred to as "Josef" in these notes, which was true. The space for entering the first name is left blank. "Reinhardt" used the name Alfredo, but his real name was Otto.

The patient's occupation was "writer," which was not quite a mistake. Otto Wächter wrote letters to his wife, kept a diary despite the fact that there were few entries there, and besides - as I found out later - all of them were either shorthand or in cipher, which made them difficult to read. He also wrote poems, and recently, in order to somehow fill the empty hours of a man hungry for entertainment, wrote a film script and a manifesto for the future Germany. He named it Quo vadis Germania?

Wächter was also accused of "mass crimes", shooting and executions of over one hundred thousand people. These were an understatement.

At a time when the patient still enjoyed power and freedom, he signed such documents with his name, because of which they issue arrest warrants for people. His signature was on the bottom of important letters and decrees. In Vienna, he put an end to the careers of thousands of people, including two of his university lecturers. In Krakow, he ordered the creation of a ghetto. In Lviv, he forbade Jews to work. It would therefore be more accurate to define the patient's profession as "lawyer, governor and SS Gruppenführer" . For the past four years, this man in hiding, looking for a way out, has focused mostly on surviving and was convinced he had succeeded.

Fugitive on the rat trail

The patient's notes showed that he was forty-five years old. In fact, he was three years older, having recently celebrated his birthday. His marital status was stated in the notes as "single". He was in fact married to Charlotte Bleckmann, referred to in his letters as Lotte or Lo. She called him Hümmchen or Hümmi. They had six children, although they could have had more. No Roman address was given in the notes. In fact lived secretly in a monastic cell on the top floor of the Vigna Pia Monastery in the suburbs of Rome , situated in the bend of the Tiber. He liked to swim.

The notes did not mention that the patient had been brought to the hospital by two nuns from Vigna Pia. As for his condition, the notes stated:

The patient indicates that he cannot eat from July 1, and on July 2 he developed a high fever, and on July 7 jaundice symptoms. Patient is diabetic and clinical examination demonstrated liver disease :acute yellow hepatic atrophy (icterus gravis).

Friend of the Church

We learn from other sources that "Reinhardt" was visited by three guests during his stay at the Holy Spirit Hospital. The first was a bishop, once closely associated with Pope Pius XII the second was a doctor who served at the German embassy in Rome during the war. The third guest was a Prussian lady, wife of an Italian scientist, mother of two children. She visited the patient every day - the first time on Sunday, on the day of his admission to the hospital, twice on Monday and once on Tuesday. That day, Wednesday 13 July, it was her fifth visit. Each time she brought some small gift - fruit or some sugar, as suggested by the doctor.

The text is an excerpt from the book by Philippe Sands' The Rats Trail. The story of the escape of the Nazi torturer ", which has just been published by the Publishing House of the Jagiellonian University.

It was not easy for the Prussian lady to get to the Baglivi room where the patient was lying. On her first visit, she was carefully questioned by a guard. "Not enough specifics," he said. Be discreet - she was warned - just say that you are a friend of the Church . She repeated these words until the guard gave up. She was recognized there now.

The visitor was impressed by the Baglivi hall. "Like some church," she later told the patient's wife, who - according to the notes - did not exist. She appreciated the coolness of this vast space, the shelter from the heat of the day as she walked from her home past the Piazza dei Quiriti and the fountain that had led Mussolini to say that four naked women should never be in the park.

She entered the Baglivi room, passed a small chapel, turned right, and hesitantly approached the patient's bed. She greeted him, spoke a few words, cooled him with a damp cloth, changed his shirt. She pulled a small stool from under the bed and sat on it to talk and comfort. The new patient in the next bed was a disturbance to her privacy, so she heeded her words.

The last moments of Otto Wächter

The patient had little to say. He was given penicillin, intravenously, to treat the infection. The drug lowered the fever, but also weakened it. He was ordered to eat little, drink coffee with milk, a few drops of orange juice, a tablespoon of dextrose. Doctors told him to spare his stomach. With each subsequent visit, the Prussian lady noticed some change. On Monday he was weakened and reticent, on Tuesday he seemed more lively and talkative. He inquired about the correspondence he expected and expressed the hope that his eldest son, also Otto, would come to visit him later this summer. His statements that day sounded reassuring, even though he seemed physically weaker. "It's much, much better," he said. She handed him orange juice with a spoon. His mind was clear, his eyes were radiant.

Otto Wächter (fourth from left) was once Hans Frank's deputy (third from left).

The patient managed to express a longer thought. “If Lo can't come now, that's okay because I've felt so close to her these last long nights and I'm happy to be so closely related. She fully understands me and everything is as it should be. He was on fire inside, but felt no pain. He seemed calm, lying still holding the lady's hand. She told him how the day had gone, about life in Rome, about the children. Before leaving, she gently stroked his forehead. He said the last few words to her. "I'm in good hands until tomorrow."

At half past six the Prussian lady said goodbye to the patient known as "Reinhardt". She knew the end was near.

Mysterious death of a criminal

That same evening, the bishop appeared with the patient. At the last moment - according to the account of the bishop, in whose arms he allegedly rested - the patient still managed to utter his last words. He suggested that his condition had caused someone to act deliberately, and he pointed to the person of the poisoner . It was still many years before his words, reportedly spoken to the bishop while alone, were revealed to others. The patient didn't get to see the next day.

A few days later a Prussian lady wrote to Charlotte Wächter, a widow. In ten handwritten pages, she told how she had met Wächter a few weeks earlier, shortly after his arrival in Rome. "From him I learned about the Lady, about the children, about everything that was dear to him." "Reinhardt" told the guest about his work before and during the war, and about the post-war years he spent high in the mountains . The letter described his anxiety and hinted at a weekend trip outside Rome. The author did not reveal either the place or the person he visited then.

Finally, the letter contained a few words about the diagnosis. The doctor believed that the death was caused by "acute liver atrophy", some type of "internal poisoning" , perhaps caused by food or water. The lady allowed herself to reflect on the future, that Charlotte would be missing her "optimistic, friendly companion." Please think only of children - she added - they need a brave and happy mother. "Especially this unwavering serenity, your feet firmly on the ground, your husband loved in you so much." With these words she ended the letter without mentioning the real name of the patient.

Family heirloom

The letter, dated July 25, 1949, was sent from Rome to Salzburg, where it was delivered to the home of Charlotte Wächter and her six children.

Charlotte had kept this letter for thirty-six years. After her death in 1985, it was handed over to her eldest child, Otto Jr., along with other personal documents. After the death of Otto Jr. in 1997, Horst, the fourth child, found his letter. At that time, he lived in a huge, empty castle, imposing, but in a sorry state, in the old Austrian village of Hagenberg, located halfway between Vienna and Czech Brno. Four years later the letter was still there, forgotten in private hands.

Heinrich Himmler accompanied by German officers in front of the 14th Waffen SS Grenadier Division "Galizien". Otto Wächter

is visible among the officers

Later, two decades later, on an incredibly cool day, I visited Horst in his castle. When we were introduced to each other a few years earlier, I was aware of thousands of pages of documents in his mother's private archives . At one point he asked if I would like to see the original letter of a Prussian lady. Yes, I would. He left the kitchen, climbed the steep stone steps, entered his room, and approached the old wooden case beside his bed, next to a photo of his father in an SS uniform. He took out the letter, went down to the kitchen with it, spread it on the old wooden table, and began to read aloud. But his voice trembled, Horst sobbed.

- That's not true.

- What is not true?

- That my father died because he got sick.

Logs crackled in the oven. I watched a couple of his breathing. I've known Horst for five years. He decided at this very moment to share his secret, the belief that his father had been murdered.

- What's the truth?

"We'd best start at the beginning," said Horst.


The text is an excerpt from the book by Philippe Sands' The Rats Trail. The History of the Escape of a Nazi Torturer ”, which has just been published by the Publishing House of the Jagiellonian University.