Hanns and Rudolf: The German Jew and the Hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz (Anglais) Broché – 1 mai 2014
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ALEXANDER. Howard Harvey, lovingly known as Hanns, passed away quickly and peacefully on Friday, 23rd December. Cremation on Thursday, 28th December, 2.30 p.m. at Hoop Lane, Golders Green Crematorium, West Chapel. No flowers please. Donations, if desired, to North London Hospice.
Daily Telegraph, December 28, 2006
Hanns Alexander’s funeral was held on a cold and rainy afternoon three days after Christmas. Considering the weather, and the timing, the turnout was impressive. More than three hundred people packed into the chapel. The congregation arrived early, and in full force, grabbing all the seats. Fifteen people from Hanns’s old bank, Warburg’s, were in attendance, including the former and current CEO. His close friends were there, as was the extended family. Hanns’s wife of sixty years, Ann, sat in the front row, along with the couple’s two daughters, Jackie and Annette.
The synagogue’s cantor recited the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead. He then paused. Looking down upon Ann and her two daughters, he delivered a short sermon, saying how sorry he was for their loss and how Hanns would be missed by the entire community. When he had finished, two of Hanns’s nephews stood to give a joint eulogy.
Much was familiar: Hanns growing up in Berlin. The Alexanders fleeing the Nazis and moving to England. Hanns fighting with the British Army. His career as a low-level banker. His commitment to the family and his half-century of schlepping for the synagogue.
But there was one detail that caught nearly everyone off guard: that at the war’s end Hanns had tracked down the Kommandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss.
This piqued my interest. For Hanns Alexander was my grandmother’s brother, my great-uncle. Growing up, we had been cautioned not to ask questions about the war. Now I learned that Hanns may have been a Nazi hunter.
The idea that this nice but unremarkable man had been a Second World War hero seemed unlikely. Presumably, this was just another of Hanns’s tales. For he was a bit of a rogue and a prankster, much respected for sure, but also a man who liked to play tricks on his elders and tell dirty jokes to us youngsters, and who, if truth be told, was prone to exaggeration. After all, if he had really been a Nazi hunter, wouldn’t it have been mentioned in his obituary?
I decided to find out if it was true.
We live in an age when the waters are closing over the history of the Second World War, when we are about to lose the last remaining witnesses, when all that is left are accounts retold so many times that they have lost their original veracity. And so we are left with caricatures: Hitler and Himmler as monsters, Churchill and Roosevelt as conquering warriors, and millions of Jews as victims.
Yet Hanns Alexander and Rudolf Höss were men with many sides to their characters. As such, this story challenges the traditional portrayal of the hero and the villain. Both men were adored by their families and respected by their colleagues. Both grew up in Germany in the early decades of the twentieth century and, in their way, loved their country. At times, Rudolf Höss, the brutal Kommandant, displayed a capacity for compassion. And the behavior of his pursuer, Hanns Alexander, was not always above suspicion. This book is therefore a reminder of a more complex world, told through the lives of two men who grew up in parallel and yet opposing German cultures.
It is also an attempt to follow the courses of the two men’s lives, and to understand how they came to meet. And the attempt raises difficult questions. How does a man become a mass murderer? Why does a person choose to confront his persecutors? What happens to the families of such men? Is revenge ever justified?
Even more, this story is an argument that when the worlds of these two men collided, modern history was changed. The testimony that emerged proved particularly significant in the war crimes trials at the end of the Second World War: Höss was the first senior Nazi to admit to executing Himmler and Hitler’s Final Solution. And he did so in great and shocking detail. This testimony, unprecedented in its description of human evil, drove the world to swear that such unspeakable atrocities would never again be repeated. From this point forward, those suffering from extreme injustice could dare to hope for intervention.
It is also the story of surprise. In my comfortable north London upbringing, Jews—and I am one—were cast as the victims of the Holocaust, not its avengers. I had never really questioned that stereo-type until I fell into this story. Or, to be more accurate, it fell to me.
This is a Jew-fighting-back story. And while there are some well-known examples of resistance—uprisings in the ghettos, revolts in the camps, attacks from the woods—such examples are few. Each should be celebrated, as an inspiration to others. Even when faced with profound brutality, hope for survival—and perhaps revenge—is still possible.
This is a story pieced together from histories, biographies, archives, family letters, old tape recordings and interviews with survivors. And it is a story that was, for reasons that I think will become clear, never fully told by the men at its heart: Hanns and Rudolf. --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .
Revue de presse
"Fascinating and moving...This is a remarkable book, which deserves a wide readership." (Max Hastings The Sunday Times)
"A gripping thriller, an unspeakable crime, an essential history." (John Le Carré)
"This is a stunning book...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)
"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 World War Two. 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)
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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. When Hanns arrived at Belsen his shock, rage and purpose was palpable - he knew that what happened in the concentration camps could easily have happened to him had he stayed in Germany. Hanns vowed to hunt down missing war criminals, especially Kommandant Hoss. How Hoss was tracked down and what happened to him at the close of the war is unveiled, often reading more like a thriller than a factual account.
The author has really managed to write a book which is immensely readable, interesting and sympathetic to all the people he writes about; which, frankly, is more than Hoss deserves. His complete inability to realise what he was accountable for is truly shocking; his crimes almost defy belief. This, however, is an important book - it is a thrilling story of justice and the search for a man trying to evade capture, an account of how people forced to leave their country started again and the biography of two very different men. It is Rudolf Hoss's normality which shocks you when you consider even a small number of the crimes he perpetuated. It is Hanns Alexander's normality which shows you how resourceful and brave people can be when their cause is just. An excellent book and highly recommended.
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.
The book recounts his war experiences; how he became involved in the Nazi Party and how he participated in the killing a former colleague who he believed to be a traitor and then Rudolph's Hoss' crucial and fatal decision to leave his beloved farm and new family to rejoin the military.
It follows his rise to become the Kommandant of Auschwitz/Birkenau.
We learn about life in the Hoss' family's villa in Auschwitz when Rudolph was the Kommandant. We learn of his wife's extravagance, what kind of family man Rudolf was and his increasing moodiness.
Hans Alexander's highly assimilated family had been optimistic about their future in Germany even with the rise of the National Socialists until storm troopers blocked their door and a crowd stood in front of their building shouting, `Don't buy from the Jews.'
Things got worse.
The author recounts the gradual realization that Hans Alexander's family had to leave, and leave everything behind as they struggle to relocate to England.
Hans becomes a soldier. In May, 1945 he enters the horror of Belsen concentration camp where corpses lay piled on top of each other and bulldozers push the dead into mass graves.
The story is about how Hans Alexander hunts down and captures Rudolf Hoss who was responsible for the deaths of three million people.
But it's more.
Hanns and Rulolf is about real people (thus the first names) and real decisions and real actions which, if can't be excused, or understood, in the case of Hoss, are deemed worthy of examination.
The author's success in capturing Hoss' motivations and personality are startling; so much that at times at tmes I could almost see Hoss' face and almost feel his breath.
This story is also remarkable because Hans Alexander is the author Thomas Harding's great uncle and Harding only learned about his uncle being a Nazi hunter after he died.
It is also a story of bravery and heroism and love and family.
The story begins with two little boys; one, the sheltered pampered son of a doctor and the other an animal lover poised to serve humanity as a priest.
One became a Nazi hunter and the other a mass murderer.
I can't get this story out of my mind.
"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. He rose up the party ranks and was eventually put in charge of directing concentration camps. He reached the height of his career when he was given the task of building up Auschwitz from the small camp in occupied Poland to the killing center it became with the additions of gas chambers and crematoriums to make more efficient the mass murder of millions. He and his wife and their five children lived in a villa on the grounds of the camp. After the war, the family fled to the British sector of divided Germany and Rudolf went into hiding. He was eventually tracked down by Hanns Alexander and testified at the Nuremberg Trials against other high-ranking Nazis. Then he stood trial in a Polish court where he was sentenced to death and was hanged in Auschwitz in 1947.
Thomas Harding's well-written book contrasts the lives - and deaths - of these two men. Hoss was hanged, a dishonorable life ending in noose. Alexander lived a life of honor in London after the war, dying at age of 90, with his wife and two daughters with him near the end. Could lives of yin and yang end any other way?
And the letter Hoess wrote to his children...I felt nauseated. Not from the letter but because I was beginning to feel bad for him. In fact, I already felt bad for him as he was separated from his family, which he clearly loved, and they he. And I don't want to feel bad for him. I feel that Harding has manipulated me into viewing this monster as human. I just don't think he is. And I feel he not only deserved what he got, but he should have gotten worse. And I don't feel bad for the family either. His wife knew, and ignored, the most unimaginable cruelty happening right next door? And am I supposed to believe the children know nothing? Children are not so stupid, especially the older ones. Obviously, they are not responsible, but I still can't feel bad for them.
I absolutely think Hoess was right when he wrote in his memiors that they should not publish the parts about his family, his "soft emotions," and his "secret doubts." He writes "Let the public go on thinking of me as a bloodthirsty brute, a cruel sadist, the murderer of millions-for that is the only way the vast majority will be able to imagine the Kommandant of Auschwitz. They would never understand that he too, had a heart, and was not a wicked man."
Right, and it is a desecration of the memories of all those millions of innocent people sent to their deaths, all those crying and laughing children sent to their early graves, all those families ripped apart, never to see each other again, to think otherwise. What kind of "heart" is that anyway?
I would have liked to give this book four stars, but I just can't. I am so bothered by this aspect of the book. Complex, Hoess might have been. Human, he certainly wasn't.
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