Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Hanns and Rudolf by Thomas Harding

Hanns Alexander was the son of a prosperous German family who fled Berlin for London in the 1930s. 

Rudolf Höss was a farmer and soldier who became the Kommandant of Auschwitz Concentration Camp and oversaw the deaths of over a million men, women and children.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, the first British War Crimes Investigation Team is assembled to hunt down the senior Nazi officials responsible for the greatest atrocities the world has ever seen. Lieutenant Hanns Alexander is one of the lead investigators, Rudolf Höss his most elusive target.

In this book Thomas Harding reveals for the very first time the full, exhilarating account of Höss' capture. Moving from the Middle-Eastern campaigns of the First World War to bohemian Berlin in the 1920s, to the horror of the concentration camps and the trials in Belsen and Nuremberg, it tells the story of two German men whose lives diverged, and intersected, in an astonishing way.

The book alternates between the lives of the two men laying a pathway to when the chapters later merge reflecting the convergence of the two men. This was excellently done as it enabled the reader to understand something of their different backgrounds and perhaps a modicum of understanding of how life took these two individuals down such very different life paths.

This book deals with extremely difficult themes and books about mass killings are never going to be easy to read. There were some descriptions in this book which were hard to read – such as Hoss planning the most efficient way of killing as many people as possible.

Hanns Alexander was the uncle of the author and as such his pride and respect for the man, who was an unsung hero in his own lifetime, has flown in abundance through this retelling of his ancestors  life.  Mr Harding himself describes his uncle’s story as a “Jew fighting back story”. I would dare to go one step further and describe him as a man who wanted justice for all those who died at the hands of Rudolf Hoss; - homosexuals, Gypsies, political prisoners….. the list could go on.

I strongly encourage you to read this book. I borrowed it from the library and I fully intend to buy a copy of it for myself as I know I will want to read it again. I also suspect that my friends and family will be getting a copy of this for birthdays this year. There are very few books that I have read in my lifetime that I felt were a privilege to read. However, this is one of them.

The book begins with the following extract and when read retrospectively is incredibly moving:

Now write down this song and teach it to the Israelites and have them sing it, so that it may be a witness for me against them. And when many disasters and calamities come on them, this song will testify against them, because it will not be forgotten by their descendants.

Today is National Holocaust Memorial Day. Let us never forget the millions who were killed at the hands of a few.

About the Author: 

Thomas Harding is an author and journalist who has written for the Financial Times, Sunday Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, among other publications. He co-founded a television station in Oxford, England, and for many years was an award-winning publisher of a newspaper in West Virginia. He lives in Hampshire, England.

His book, HANNS AND RUDOLF was published in the UK, USA and Canada in September 2013, and is being translated into ten other languages. It was shortlisted for the Costa Book Award Biography prize in 2013 and for the JQ-Wingate Literary Prize for 2015.

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