Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz
by Thomas Harding
Simon & Schuster (2013) 348 Pages
“I had to appear cold and heartless while watching things that would go to the heart of anyone with any human feelings” ~ Rudolf Höss
There have been many books written about the Holocaust, and I have read quite a few of them; Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding adds a new dimension to the bibliography, in that it chronicles the lives of two Germans in parallel-one a German Jew who along with his family, barely made it out of Nazi Germany alive, and the other the Kommandant of Auschwitz. What makes this story unique is that it offers the personal perspective of each man’s experience, allowing the reader to view the horror in detail through the eyes of each man.
Hanns Alexander and his twin brother Paul were members of an affluent Jewish family in Berlin. Rudolf Höss was a farmer who fell in with a young Adolf Hitler, getting caught up in the Beer Hall Putsch which got him imprisoned for 4 years. As an early member of the Nazi party, Höss would climb the ranks until becoming a Kommandant of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. He would be instrumental in the design and implementation of the most brutal prison system the world has ever seen.
Thomas Harding has put together a well written historical biography of both men, with their life stories told in tandem from childhood to their fateful meeting at war’s end. Hanns, along with his family were able to escape to England, where both he and his brother Paul enlisted in the British army, with Hanns becoming a lead investigator and Nazi Hunter, in a quest to bring the Reich’s leaders to justice. Hanns is the man responsible for tracking and capturing Rudolf Höss, who would be convicted during the Nuremberg Trials.
As the world is losing the last remaining witnesses to World War II, this book is a reminder of what the human race is capable of, both good and bad, while educating a new generation in what sacrifices have been made by their ancestors. The dual biographies go into intricate detail concerning events that have contributed to the rise of the Nazi party and the war that ravaged much of Europe; events such as the 1929 Stock Market crash, and its effect on the German economy, as well as the ineffective Weimar Government, which fermented Nationalism among most of the population.
Harding presents an excellent chronological time line of events, in an easy to follow style which reads like a thrilling novel. Much of the personal information on Höss is taken from his autobiography, written while in prison awaiting trial. He was the first high-ranking officer to admit to his crimes, while giving detailed information on the building of the concentration camp system and unlike his peers, Höss laid bare the Reich’s objectives of wiping European Jews from the face of the earth.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in World War II history, Jewish Studies, or a compelling biography with a gripping story.
out of 5