In April 1945, as Germany faced the abyss of destruction, a desperate plan was conceived by leading figures in the SS – with Hitler’s blessing – for a last-ditch defence by a fanatical SS guerrilla force in the mountains of Austria and Italy. The Führer himself added the finishing touch: a plan to round up the Third Reich’s most valuable VIP prisoners. They would be sent to the same ‘Alpine Redoubt’ to be used as hostages. In the last resort, they would be executed in vengeance.
The VIP prisoners were selected from the special compounds at Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps. They included former presidents and prime ministers of France, Hungary and Austria, generals from Greece, the Soviet Union and Italy, as well as captured British secret agents, veterans of the Great Escape, German anti-Nazis, clerics, celebrities, and officers who had aided the July 1944 bomb plot against Hitler, and their wives and children. Altogether they represented seventeen nations and many classes; what they all had in common was that they were hated – and feared – by the Nazis.
Guarded by a detachment of SS troops (who would be their executioners if required), the hostages were taken on a long journey to the so-called Alpine Redoubt, a region of impregnable mountain country. So began a tense, deadly drama. Some of the prisoners were resourceful, courageous men who couldn’t be held in check easily, and their SS guards grew increasingly volatile, drunk and trigger-happy as defeat loomed.
The story of Hitler’s hostages culminated in a confrontation between the SS and the Wehrmacht with the hostages caught in the middle. The US Army launched a frantic rescue bid – an armoured task force racing ahead of the Allied advance in an attempt to save the hostages before the axe fell.
Co-authored with historian and Nazi-hunter Ian Sayer, Hitler’s Last Plot tells the story of the hostages in full for the first time in print.
This gripping account of one of the important but lesser-known aspects of the last days of the Second World War is packed with brand new information. Written with pace and verve, yet always true to the facts, this extraordinary story would make an amazing feature film.
Andrew Roberts, historian and author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny