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Hanns and Rudolf: The True Story of the German Jew Who Tracked Down and Caught the Kommandant of Auschwitz Hardcover – September 3, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


“Thomas Harding has written a book of two intersecting lives: His uncle, a German Jew and potential Nazi victim, and Rudolf Höss, Kommandant of Auschwitz. In a neat historical irony, his uncle became a British officer who tracked down war criminals, including one of the worst mass murderers. A fascinating account, with chunks of new information, about one of history's darkest chapters.” (Richard Breitman, Author of The Architect of Genocide: Himmler and The Final Solution and Editor-in-chief of the U.S. Holocaust Museum's Holocaust and Genocide Studies.)

“This important and moving book describes the unlikely intersection of two very different lives—that of Hanns Alexander, the son of a prosperous German family in Berlin who became a refugee in London in the 1930s and Rudolf Höss, the Kommandant of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Well-researched and grippingly written it provides a unique insight into the fate of Germany under National Socialism.” (Antony Polonsky, Albert Abramson Professor of Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Brandeis University)

"Thomas Harding’s Hanns and Rudolf not only declines to forget, but challenges and defies the empty sententiousness characteristic of those who privately admit to being “tired of hearing about the Holocaust.” In this electrifying account of how a morally driven British Jewish soldier pursues and captures and brings to trial the turntail Kommandant of Auschwitz, Thomas Harding commemorates (and, for the tired, revivifies) a ringing Biblical injunction: Justice, justice, shalt thou pursue". (Cynthia Ozick)

"Outstanding, outstanding, outstanding! I was riveted to the text. Thomas Harding writes superbly, the storyline is better than any contrived mystery, and a compelling part of history. I see a movie here....because while there is almost a saturation of Holocaust books and movies, this is most compelling because it is about PEOPLE, the deranged Nazi who didn¹t give any thought to what he was doing and murdered in cold blood and the German Jewish refugee, a charming but rather regular fella, who got caught up in a history-making capture that turned the course of the Nuremberg trials." (Rabbi Dr. Stuart Altshuler, Belsize Square Synagogue)

“A remarkable book: thoughtful, compelling and quite devastating in its humanity. Thomas Harding’s account of these two extraordinary men goes straight to the dark heart of Nazi Germany.” (Keith Lowe, author of Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II)

"A fascinating, well-crafted book, entwining two biographies for an unusual and illuminating approach to the history of the Third Reich, its most heinous crime and its aftermath." (Roger Moorhouse, author of Killing Hitler and Berlin at War)

"This fascinating book, based on the gripping story of one man’s unrelenting pursuit of Rudolf Höss in his search for justice, confirms my belief that much of the most important knowledge of the Holocaust, comes from the personal accounts of those involved. Hanns and Rudolf vividly brings to life, not only the impact of Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies on the author’s German Jewish family, forced to flee Berlin in the 1930s; but shows how an ordinary German farmer became one of the most feared and notorious war criminals in history, implementing with chilling efficiency the extermination of over a million Jews in Auschwitz. As awareness of the full horror of these dark years continues to advance, this book fills a unique and vital role." (Lyn Smith, author of Forgotten Voices and lecturer in International Politics at the Open University)

"Its climax as thrilling as any wartime adventure story, Hanns and Rudolf is also a moral inquiry into an eternal question: what makes a man turn to evil? Closely researched and tautly written, this book sheds light on a remarkable and previously unknown aspect of the Holocaust - the moment when a Jew and one of the highest-ranking Nazis came face to face and history held its breath." (Jonathan Freedland)

"This is a stunning book. Rudolf Höss' descent into the horror of mass murder is both chilling and deeply disturbing. It is also an utterly compelling and exhilarating account of one man's extraordinary hunt for the Kommandant of the most notorious death camp of all, Auschwitz-Birkenau." (James Holland, author of The Battle of Britain: Five Months That Changed History; May―October 1940)

"Only at his great uncle’s funeral in 2006 did Thomas Harding discover that Hanns Alexander, whose Jewish family fled to Britain from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, hunted down and captured Rudolf Höss, the ruthless commandant of Auschwitz, at the end of WW2. By tracing the lives of these two men in parallel until their dramatic convergence in 1946, Harding puts the monstrous evil of the Final Solution in two specific but very different human contexts. The result is a compelling book full of unexpected revelations and insights, an authentic addition to our knowledge and understanding of this dark chapter in European history. No-one who starts reading it can fail to go on to the end." (David Lodge)

"Written with the verve of a writer and the sure touch of an historian, Thomas Harding's Hanns and Rudolf is a fascinating, fresh, and compelling work of history." (Jay Winik, author of April 1865 and The Great Upheaval)

“Hanns & Rudolf packs an extraordinary punch about the nature of evil, told in a cool, dispassionate voice. As these two lives wrap around each other, the quality of evil becomes ever clearer, and more shocking.” (Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Baroness Neuberger, West London Synagogue of British Jew)

"The protagonists' individual choices and family backgrounds give this biographical history a unique, intimate quality" (Kirkus)

"A gripping thriller, an unspeakable crime, an essential history." (John Le Carré)

"Thomas Harding has shed intriguing new light on the strange poison of Nazism, and one of its most lethal practitioners... Meticulously researched and deeply felt." (Ben Macintyre The Times, Book of the Week)

"Fascinating and moving...This is a remarkable book, which deserves a wide readership." (Max Hastings The Sunday Times)

"Written with admirable restraint... [Hanns and Rudolf] fascinates and shocks." (Evan Thomas Washington Post)

“[A] hair-raising account… Höss and Alexander are drawn in vivid contrast. The narrative also extends beyond the postwar Nuremberg and other war crimes trials, adding historical perspective for 21st-century readers.” (Buffalo News)

“[M]eticulously researched and rivetingly reported… Harding’s book is factual but reads like an edge-of-the-seat thriller…. [I] applaud Harding’s clear-eyed narration and objectivity — that and his talent to produce a book that fascinates and disturbs in equal measure” (Forward)

About the Author

Thomas Harding is a former documentary filmmaker and journalist who has written for the Financial Times and The Guardian, among other publications. He founded a television station in Oxford, England, and for many years was an award-winning publisher of a newspaper in West Virginia. Hanns and Rudolf is his first book. He lives in Hampshire, England.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 348 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 3, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1476711844
  • ISBN-13: 978-1476711843
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.3 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (143 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #108,796 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 54 people found the following review helpful By S Riaz TOP 500 REVIEWER on August 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
The author of this absorbing book was surprised to discover, at his great-uncle's funeral, that his relative was the man who tracked down war criminal Rudolf Hoss. In this engaging work, he tells the story of two men's lives in an honest and sympathetic manner. Harding parallels their biographies - Rudolf Hoss, born in 1901 in Baden-Baden, whose father had decided he would join the priesthood, but who joined the army to fight in WWI at the age of fourteen and who was a Commander at just sixteen years old; an odd mix of family man and committed National Socialist. Hanns Alexander, meanwhile, was born in 1933 to a rich and influential family, his father, an eminant doctor, was initially reluctant to even consider leaving Germany until the danger became too great. Luckily, Dr Alexander was visiting his married daughter in London when it became evident that he was to be arrested and the family managed to finally meet up again in England. When war broke out, both Hanns and his twin brother Paul were determined to enlist.

This work takes us through the war years, where Hoss recalled how Himmler gave him personal orders to Auschwitz to become, "a site of mass annihilation." Zyklon B provided a cheap and quick method of killing hundreds of people at a time. Later, Hoss chillingly recalled how solving the problem of the mechanism for mass murder meant that, "now my mind was at ease." As the war neared its end, the Allies created a database of alleged war criminals and the Commandant of Auschwitz was high on that list. However, the British war crimes response was not seen as of major importance until British troops entered Belsen. Hanns Alexander was chosen for the first ever war crimes investigation team, first as an interpreter and later as a war crimes investigator.
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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Jill Meyer TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nazi and Jew. Jew and Nazi. Can you imagine two more disparate people? In his book, British author Thomas Harding writes about Hanns Alexander, a German Jew who emigrated to England in the mid-1930's with almost his entire family, and Rudolf Hoss, a German Nazi who was the commandant of Auschwitz and self-confessed murderer of 2 million people. Could two men - in and of the world at the same time - be more different? In "Hanns and Rudolf", Harding, great-nephew of Hanns Alexander, tells the story of the two and how one man helped decide the fate of the other after that other man had decided the fates of millions.

"Hanns and Rudolf" is a double biography of those two men. Hanns was the son of German-Jewish parents. His father was a well-respected doctor and the Alexander family - with two older daughters and twin sons, Hanns and Paul - lived a good life in Berlin. During the 1930's, the family realised the Nazi governments restrictions on German Jews were not going to lessen and there was no future in Germany for the family. They were all able to emigrate to England, where the father reestablished his medical practice. The boys joined the British Army in a special unit made up of former German Jews who had emigrated. Hanns became a translator after the war for the British army's war-crimes division and was one of those officials tracking down Nazi war criminals. It was in this capacity that he captured Rudolf Hoss and brought him to justice.

Rudolf Hoss was the son of staunchly Catholic parents. He lied about his age in 1915 and joined the German army in the WW1. He served honorably but was one of the many "disconnected" Germans after the war and into the 1920s, searching for a direction in life. He discovered Adolf Hitler's Nazi party and was an early member.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Lita Perna VINE VOICE on September 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Reading this even handed account of parallel biographies of a German Jew from an esteemed family and an animal loving German raised to be a priest, is like watching two trains roar towards each other on a single track.

Hans Alexander was born in 1917 Germany, a twin and the Jewish child of an esteemed and wealthy high society physician. `The Alexander residence took up the entire second floor of 219/220 Kaiseralle ('one of the smartest addresses in Berlin') ', and had 22 rooms. His father commissioned an architect and turned a four story structure into a sanatorium and furnished it with the latest equipment. Three doctors joined the practice with a team of nurses and technicians. There were family parties, a new car, and a country home.

Rudolf Hoss was a protected and lonely, child who grew up in Baden-Baden, and then the suburbs of Mannheim. He loved animals so much that he often smuggled his beloved pony into his bedroom. The author writes that he and the pony were inseparable and the pony followed Rudolf like a dog.
Rudolf's father taught him about the principles of the Catholic Church and took Rudolph on
pilgrimages to holy sites in Switzerland and to Lourdes in France. Rudolph reported that he took his religious duties seriously.
His father swore he would be a priest. Rudolf's education was planned to prepare him for a religious life.

Rudolf joined the Red Cross and impressed by soldiers' bravery he lied about his age and enlisted in the army when he was 14 years old.
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