Following World War II, publishers brought out a steady stream of books purporting to identify the whereabouts of prominent Nazis. Martin Bormann, Adolf Eichmann, and Josef Mengele were three of their favorite subjects. All three were thought to have survived the war and fled to South America through a network codenamed ODESSA by American intelligence. But only Eichmann (who was captured by the Mossad) and Mengele (who eluded capture but drowned off the Brazilian coast) were proven to have resettled in South America. Bormann was proven by DNA tests in 1973 to have died attempting to escape Berlin. Nonetheless, the books kept coming. The English thriller author Henry Patterson (pen name Jack Higgins) wrote at least two of them about Martin Bormann on the run—years after the truth was uncovered. The Valhalla Exchange is one of those, and it’s the less successful of the two.
The Valhalla Exchange by Jack Higgins (1977) 208 pages @@@ (3 out of 5)
Martin Bormann on the run
In Higgins’s telling, Bormann comes across as an organizational genius who orchestrates an escape plan of extraordinary complexity. On the day Adolf Hitler commits suicide, with Russian troops just 150 yards from the command bunker under the Reich Chancellery, Bormann somehow manages to flee Berlin—in an airplane, no less—then rendezvous with his double, switch places, and make his way through Allied lines to the far south of Germany. There, his plan is to capture five high-value Allied prisoners and use them to bargain for his freedom with American troops. But things don’t quite work out that way.
Jack Higgins is a master at staging battle scenes and building tension. The Valhalla Exchange is typical of his work. However, in other novels, the fighting and the suspense come across as more natural. Here, it all gets just a little tiresome. And, fortunately, it’s all fantasy. Bormann himself died 32 years before this novel was published.
What really happened to the top Nazis
In fact, what really happened to many of the prominent Nazis who survived World War II was far more prosaic. They were hired by the United States and the Soviet Union, and later by the West German government. The most famous examples of this phenomenon were Operation Paperclip, an American operation that shipped more than 1,600 Nazi rocket scientists, engineers, and technicians to the US, and Markus Wolf, who was number two in the East German spy service, the Stasi, for nearly the full duration of the Cold War. But hundreds, and possibly thousands, of others made their way into German and Austrian government and society. Despite the Allies’s announced commitment to denazification, the program was spottily applied and abandoned entirely in 1951. The most visible, and most successful, effort was the first of the Nuremberg Trials, in which just two dozen top Nazis were tried. (Only twelve were sentenced to death.)
For additional reading
This was the first of at least two books Jack Higgins wrote about Martin Bormann on the run. The second, published in 1993, was Thunder Point. I reviewed the book at One of Jack Higgins’ best thrillers.
I’ve also read and enjoyed several other novels by Jack Higgins, including the following:
- The Eagle Has Landed (A classic espionage thriller that’s well worth rereading)
- Luciano’s Luck (Fact and fiction about the Mafia and the WWII Allied invasion of Sicily)
- A Prayer for the Dying (A thriller that revolves around a Catholic’s confession)
You might also enjoy my posts:
- The 10 top espionage novels reviewed on this site;
- 20 good nonfiction books about espionage; and
- Top 10 mystery and thriller series.
If you enjoy reading history in fictional form, check out 20 most enlightening historical novels (plus dozens of runners-up). And if you’re looking for exciting historical novels, check out Top 10 historical mysteries and thrillers reviewed here (plus 100 others).
And you can always find my most popular reviews, and the most recent ones, plus a guide to this whole site, on the Home Page.