Hanns and Rudolf tells the tale of Rudolf Hoss, Kommandent of Aushwitz and Hanns Alexander, a German Jew turned Nazi hunter who eventually caught Hoss. The narrative takes the form of an interweaving biography of the two figures. This is done by separating each of their stories into different chapters. The book is written by Thomas Harding, who is Hanns’ great nephew. The family tie that the author has helps to give the book a purpose as after all, this is a period of history written about constantly.
Firstly I would like to point out that this book was not what I thought it would be. I thought that it would tell the lengthy story of Hanns trying to catch Rudolf, when in fact the vast majority of this book is about their completely separate lives and their journeys pre war as much as their actions during and postwar. The link between the two is that they are both involved in WWII, not that Hanns was the man to catch Rudolf. Whilst the book does include this, it didn’t feel like the main part of the book as you would expect from reading the front cover, which says”The German Jew and the hunt for the Kommandent of Auschwitz”. I therefore found this slightly misleading, so if you are to read this book, don’t expect a lengthy detective novel as this is not what the book offers the reader.
Hanns and Rudolf is very well researched, with great detail given about both the characters childhoods. However a lot of the information about Rudolfs early life seems regurgitated from other sources. The Hanns sections stand out because he is a new character to amateur historians and the authors family ties help to personalise him to the reader. This book is all about portraying the two characters as people, rather than symbols of their armies or nations. It is a human story of how one German Jew ended up hating his country and how Rudolf became a mass murderer . This personalised take on the characters is typified by the fact that throughout the book they are referred to in first person (because of this, I have decided to do the same).
One of the books most interesting facets is how Rudolf Hoss did what he did, was he simply following orders, or was he not sane? It certainly is intriguing reading about Rudolf and the extent of his crimes against humanity. It’s compelling reading when Harding writes about Hoss’ constant struggle to keep up his family life normal whilst being Kammondent of Aushwitz. Equally absorbing is Hanns’ journey out of Nazi Germany and his decision to fight against them in the war and him becoming one of the very first Nazi hunters after the wars end. On top of this there is the story of Hanns’ twin brother Paul and how they constantly seem to keep bumping into each other during the war. Both Hanns and Rudolf are very interesting characters and the format of having their stories told in interlinking chapters works very well for the narrative. This book is extremely readable because of this.
The book is a well written account of the two characters. It’s engaging you and wills you to read on to the end. Overall I would give this book an 8 out of 10. It is not as insightful or as original as a book like Monuments Men and is not as well written as a Bryson, but it is an interesting and personal story of two contrasting characters in WWII. I was personally disappointed with the shortness of Hoss’ capture, which should of been the crux of the book, but was relegated to a couple of pages.