Hanns and Rudolf. The German Jew and the Hunt for the Commandant of Auschwitz by Thomas Harding
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It is, was, an extraordinary story, no matter how you look at it. The author is related to someone, who, when young in the 1930’s, was effectively forced to flee Germany and settle in England. Because he was, as you’ve guessed, a Jew. The story comes to light, to the author’s attention, after his relative, Hanns Alexander, has died, as Hanns himself, seems not to have liked talking about the story all that much.
What is the story? Well, the other ‘half’ of it, relates to Rudolf Höss, who was, for the main part of its existence, Commandant at the Aushwitz concentration camp(s) complex. They are born in Germany at roughly the same time, grow up, go to school and, well, for all intents and purposes, at this point, in the days before and even just after, the Nazi Party’s rise to power, have the same possibilities in their lives ahead. However, for obvious reasons, their lives take very different paths.
The two men’s lives are re-told in some detail and the book alternates between the life threads, based on periods. The story is presented in a clear, matter of fact, this was how it was, style, but not commented on by the author. No ‘ooh, look this is horrible’ or ‘this is normal.’ It is unavoidable, of course, for the reader. As it should be, if you’re getting what he intends you to get from it, I guess.
What did I get from it? Well, you’ll probably be as interested as I was in reading this, to form your own opinion(s). If you’re looking for historical perspective, warnings to now, ‘must never happen again’ passages, you won’t find them. Of course, a fair bit of everyone’s focus is, always has been, how could they do this? But that’s looking at the German people now and wondering if they have it in them. Rudolf Höss is pretty normal, for Nazi Germany. The way I see it, all he was doing, in his view, was solving a problem, being presented with another problem, solving that, moving on. As I got from his own comments, he really didn’t see anything abnormal about it, but you have to consider that ‘normal’ was in a different place back then, back there, in those circumstances. And once you’ve been doing something, getting away with it if you like, for a while, that becomes ‘normal.’
The story is of course, that Hanns, joins the British army and is instrumental in tracking down and capturing Rudolf. Their lives are intertwined from start to Rudolf’s finish. It is a really interesting, well-put, engrossing book. Important in the way of being totally aware of what went on back then, and how. The why, is up to you. Thoroughly recommended.
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